Part 4- Hobo Informants

By: Jennifer Lawson-Zepeda

The Business of Informing

In the book, Where have all the homeless gone?: the making and unmaking of a crisis, Mr. Marcus discusses the general feeling about being a paid informant who acts homeless.

Despite the general hatred for being stereotyped and the special animus reserved for the role of the homeless and ugly, living by stereotypes was sometimes the only thing separating life and death as Franklin pointed out to me one day while telling me about role switching in prison. He had been arrested for crack dealing and decided he should play the homeless card by calling his social worker at the shelter to get someone to mediate between him, legal aid an the courts. When he first arrived in prison he became a crackhead again to avoid being victimize, then made the difficult switch back to homeless while still in prison because he owed money to someone there. He said, “I’d rather be a homeless crazy person than be that nigger’s bitch.” He later managed to be transferred to a mental health unit with often housed imprisoned homeless men.

Most of my informants hated playing the role of homeless in any situation, because it violated virtually every U.S. norm of adulthood and masculinity. The homeless person appeared passive, pathetic, dependent, uneducated, unskilled, mentally ill, desexualized, ugly and disgusting. However, as Franklin had once pointed out to me about being homeless, “it’s no worse than anything else the system makes you do. It ain’t like you gonna get any pussy at the supermarket when you give those coupons (food stamps).”

(Source: Paid informants and homeless)

A Viable Career Path?

So one wonders why some homeless people suggest this as a good source of income.

I was in a forum reading opinions on how to earn a living if one was homeless when my jaw nearly dropped. One of the long term homeless characters there was suggesting that becoming an informant, for either the police or organized crime, was a good source of income. I recall thinking to myself, ARE YOU NUTS?

Fearing the idea of receiving institutionalized assistance, such as general relief or working in soup kitchens that sometimes pay homeless people for their services, a few of the homeless have found that offering information as an informant pays for their basic necessities much better than classic assistance programs.

The fact is that the more time a person spends on the street, the more unlikely it is that this person will settle for classic wage-labor positions. It is more likely the person will find an alternative source of income. And informing has become big business in the landscape of America. It isn’t that the homeless person doesn’t want to work and earn a living. It is that the damage of living outside of the system eventually takes its toll on people who are so marginalized and they tend to distrust the system of wage-labor after being outside of it for so long. They place more faith in the forms of work they know they can draw money from:

  • collecting cans
  • donating blood
  • busking
  • soliciting donations
  • working in labor pools
  • scavenging
  • “snitching”

You will note that I placed the word, snitching, inside of quotation marks. I did this because I do not consider a person who reports criminal behavior to law enforcement as someone who is doing anything wrong. In my book, if you fear something you are doing could get you in trouble; then, don’t do it! If you do…then, don’t sweat those of us who feel we have a right to report you. And I associate the word, “snitching” with child molesters…people who know what they are doing is so hideous and disgusting that they feel a need to hide their behavior behind labeling people who report them.

That being said, I can’t imagine risking someone’s life by telling them that becoming an informant is an intelligent way to earn income. Why? Because of the danger involved. And ESPECIALLY for a person who has no house to keep them safe.

Hobo Snitches

In the communities that dot the landscape of America, these people are referred to as “hobo snitches.” That’s what they are called in the streets; it’s not my term.

There has even been a game made out of this term; where people wander into the community and tag people they consider to be hobo snitches. What a lovely source of human compassion, no?

Here is a lovely web site aimed at letting the world know that “K will kill a snitch hobo.” It’s these sorts of things that simply make humanity what it is, right folks?

This is why I wonder why ANYONE would recommend that another homeless person earn a living as an informant. Obviously, the attitude against these people is such that it can’t possibly benefit anyone who finds them self labeled as such.

Homeless Forum Advice

And I assume this is why I may have become unpopular among some in a certain homeless forum. I took issue with some of the long-term homeless in that forum telling others to become informants to earn money.

Well, I stand by that, and if it pisses off a few homeless people who have given up on standard wage positions, then so be it. Frankly, I wondered at the time if they weren’t trying to be a bit sensational.

You see, when a person gives information like this, eventually others find out who is providing the information. And that can become quite dangerous. Living as a homeless person is tough enough. They certainly don’t need bad advice.

Exploiting the Homeless

It seems to be a great past time for those who don’t understand or want to understand the plight of the homeless, to exploit them. In this article about “Calorie Commando” TV chef Juan-Carlos Cruz, Cruz has hired homeless men to murder his wife; but the men offered this information to the police, instead.

The investigation began when two homeless men told police that Cruz had approached them on the street, wanting to hire them as hitmen. Police then videotaped Cruz arranging the murder with the men and driving one of them to his Westwood condo to show him how to get in, prosecutors said.

When I was in Mexico I heard of organized crime hiring the homeless drug addicts. They paid these people $100 to use the credit cards of people they murdered, to purchase high end electronics and max the card out. Why? Because if they were caught, they were expendable.

Is this what the homeless now feel about themselves, too?