Thursday, July 17, 2008

Professional trash-pickers stealing jobs from homeless people

As a conveyor of goods, a shopping cart is no match for a flat bed truck. It's one of the reasons that homeless advocate Bob Erlenbusch is supporting California's proposed law to crack down on large-scale dumpster diving. The law aims to foil professional looters who are conducting massive raids of trash cans and curbside recycling bins—depriving competitors of income. The looters can collect up to $600 for a truckload of newspapers alone. Cities and towns that reclaim waste paper, cardboard and containers for the recycling market are losing tens of thousands of dollars in revenue.

But local governments aren't the only ones being shortchanged. At least 75 percent of homeless people surveyed in Los Angeles said they depend on income from collecting cans and bottles and redeeming them for cash. These roving entrepreneurs can earn between 5 cents and 10 cents per container (before taxes, that is).

Erlenbusch believes the proposed law is worded such that homeless individuals trying to run a small business (or rather, push one around) will not be sufficiently harmed. So it appears that solo enterprises such as Blind Larry's Cart Mart and Bertha's Bag-lady Bodega will have a modicum of job security.

Residents like Bruce Johnson of San Francisco are happy about the proposed law too, hoping it will restore peace and quiet in their neighborhoods. Johnson says of the throng of professional poachers: "They're like an army out there. They're in trucks. They're on cell phones. It's a business." Homeowners pine for the days when a lone bum would pick respectfully and neatly through their offal.

On a brighter note, food sources for the "working poor" are safe, at least for now. Homeless people currently have no competition in the public or private sector for half-eaten burritos. Though they still have a bone to pick with rats.

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