Panhandlers and Protitutes galore in downtown Kansas City, Missouri
The Compassion Zone in Kansas City's historic Civic Center is rife with panhandlers, especially in the evenings and on weekends when there is nothing much to do for money but hustle. It is called the Compassion Zone because it is where some of Kansas City's more compassionate conservatives prefer to corral indigent people who congregate downtown so they will not have to bother tourists and prosperous Kansas Citians to get a bite to eat. Almost the only place open after the sidewalks are rolled up after work is the Diamond Shamrock gas station and convenience store on Tenth and Locust. Just recently a Subway franchise opened up near the Shamrock: a sandwich may be purchased there until 3 P.M. on weekends. The mayor has been promising more for years.
I frequent the Shamrock despite the warnings of my neighbors not to go there; the aggressive panhandlers and predators around the store and the absence of police - although the metropolitan police headquarters is in the Zone - gives residents good cause to steer clear of the place.
The regular panhandlers know I am not good for anything except a chat, so they usually don't bother to ask me for money. If they do start to hustle me, I jump in and see if I can bum something from them. As much as five dollars has been offered to me: the poor are often more compassionate than the rich. A few of the transients, however, are sometimes a problem. Lots of them are in between prisons - the Compassion Zone is a sort of grand concourse between the revolving doors of prisons and jails; unfortunately, quite a few innocent people wind up in the Compassion Zone for one reason or the other.
I've been verbally abused in the Compassion Zone. A man pulled a gun on me six months ago. Last Sunday I was chased by two thugs in broad daylight: one man had a knife; I wished I had a concealed gun on me at the time: I do not like to run because I am out of shape. I saw a man suddenly slashed up with a knife at a bus stop in broad daylight the other day - the bad news did not make it into the paper. Several of my neighbors have been mugged in the Compassion Zone. A woman in my building was stabbed as she was entering her apartment a few months ago.
The rule of thumb at night around the Compassion Zone is, Do not go out after dark. The daytime is bad enough already. Mayor Kay Barnes is trying to sell the downtown for her wealthy associates, who happen to be passionate about making money, to other wealthy people and upper-middle class folks, who can afford luxury condominiums. She has repeatedly responded to complaints about inadequate security with a statement implying that people are paranoid, as if they are just imagining the problem - that is one of several reasons why the old folks who have not left the neighborhood yet call her "that stupid woman." She has Knight Ridder's Kansas City Star in her pocket - the Star got a multimillion-dollar new printing plant downtown in exchange for helping her promote the never-ending downtown revitalization plan for real estate interests.
There are worse neighborhoods, in Baghdad, for instance, although Kansas City's murder rate almost matched Baghdad's for a few weeks. I ventured out as usual this Sunday morning, after reading a Star article about my neighborhood: the reporter claimed she did not encounter panhandlers in the Compassion Zone - that claim gave several residents of my buildling good cause to guffaw. The door downstairs was propped open with an ash can as usual: many unregistered guests don't have keys. The building was once a great place for retirees, but they were run off and the building ghettoized in expectation of being condominiumized - the manager is a hard-working young fellow, but he cannot do much without a budget or express instructions from the absentee owner.
No sooner was I out the door than a panhandler came right at me. I changed course, but he caught up with me and demanded money, "Give me some money!" At that very moment a well-dressed woman I know came out of the building next door, the Metropolitan Condominiums, and yelled a greeting at me. The man turned from me and headed toward her. I waved to her to go back inside, and she did - security there do not secure the perimeter of the building.
By that time I was walking quickly by Old St. Patrick's Church on Eighth and Cherry. There were no addicts, alcoholics or prostitutes behind the wall on the front steps of the church this morning - they have on occasion be seen shooting up and fornicating from the higher floors of the Metropolitan. I looked over my shoulder - the panhandler had gone back to my building and was demanding money from another man, who was reaching into his pocket. I kept on going up Cherry Street, between the Cherry Inn and the back of the Regional Headquarters of the Department of Transportation.
I chatted with the security guards at the DOT the other day. They said they hoped the Cherry Inn and the Shamrock would be torn down and turned into parking lots because of the problems they attracted. I related that I had made the mistake of checking into the motel in 1997. The cockroaches were bad enough, but the gun battle outside was scary, I said. Then I called my brother, who lives in Kansas, and he came and got me out of town, took me to Lawrence, a decent town, right away. But I told the guards that I don't think the places should be torn down, for what is really needed is more stores and more traffic, as the Mayor once promised.
I continued up Cherry Street to the Penny Building occupied by All Makes Machine, Inc, at 926 Cherry on the Corner of Tenth. There is a big yellow sign on the front door of the building:
YOU ARE ON CAMERA
YOU WILL BE PROSECUTED
The same sign appears around the corner on Tenth, on the end of the building which abuts the Shamrock property. This morning two men and a woman were sitting under the sign.
"Hey, mister, want to buy some pussy?" said one, pointing to a half-conscious, obese young woman next to him.
"No thanks," I replied - She's high on heroin, I thought.
"How about some dope?" he persisted.
I took another look at the woman, who made a slight effort at smiling. There is no such thing as an ugly human being, but in her condition she came close to the adjective.
"I reckon a man would need some dope to get into that," I blurted out - I should have been ashamed of myself. Both men laughed and laughed, and I laughed and kept going. Before I got to the door, another man, whom I had never seen before, asked me for a dollar. I stopped and politely said, No, and asked him if he wanted to trade watches. He declined, saying someone had paid $89 for his, and mine did not look like it was worth much. I agreed - I had paid only ten bucks for it. Then I asked him for a dollar for a hot dog. He politely refused. I went inside the store to get my usual junk-food breakfast and a newspaper. I was the only customer; that was nice because sometimes there is a long line for half-pints, lottery tickets, and cigarettes.
The brave lady working behind the counter said there had been a fire in the building across the street from the Cherry Inn, at 612 Ninth Street. She said she hoped no one wound up homeless. As I left the store, a man sitting on the wall by the Department of Transportation asked me for "spare change." I passed him by with a firm, "No, Sir," and went over to Ninth to check out the fire. Quite a few residents were on the porch.
"How many apartments burned out?" I asked, catching the eye of one man.
"Hey, mister, got a thousand dollars?" asked a very young woman, perhaps a teenager, from her perch on the porch bannister.
"Wish I did," to her, then, "I heard it was electrical."
"Nope, cigarettes and booze," my respondent declared.
"Damn," I observed, "I was in one of those, several people were killed, but I got out - lucky I guess."
"We were lucky," said the man.
"Well, thanks for the info, and good luck," I said. Then, to the girl, "Good luck with that thousand dollars!" Several men on the porch laughed.
"I'm worth it," she said. "Just try me out."
I kept on going instead. The aggressive panhandler was no longer working my building. I ran into Bob in the hall.
"Hey, where've you been? To the Shitrock?" - excuse me for the local slang.
"Ha, ha, how many panhandlers?"
"Hell, let's see, three or four, I think, and a prostitute and two pimps, and a potential call girl, probably jail bait."
"Ha, ha, Dave, you're something else for going over there. Damn!"
July 11, 2004
Kansas City, Missouri
Site: Downtown Kansas City