Are you relatively new to this bustling metropolis? Don't be shy about it, everyone was new to New York once upon a time, except, of course, those battle-hardened residents who've lived here their whole lives and Know It All. One of these lifers works among us at Gothamist—publisher Jake Dobkin grew up in Park Slope and still resides there. He is now fielding questions—ask him anything by sending an email here, but be advised that Dobkin is "not sure you guys will be able to handle my realness." We can keep you anonymous if you prefer; just let us know what neighborhood you live in.

This week's question comes from a Bed-Stuy resident who's worried about a violent vagrant who frequents her block.

Hi Jake,

I live in Bed-Stuy. I've lived in Bed-Stuy for many years (read: seen/experienced many things—not new here), and I moved to my most recent apartment there about a year ago.

There is a crack-head vagrant that I have seen here and there around the neighborhood for the last 5 years. My apartment now seems to be right by where ever he calls home. He is aggressive and threatening at the best of times. He must have been locked up for the past few months, because I hadn't seen him.

In the last two weeks however, I have been chased by him up the steps of my apartment building (he stopped when he noticed the garden apartment tenant smoking by his front door), spit on, and screamed at while I try to walk home. I have witnessed him chase another woman at 9 a.m. on a Saturday, threaten to stab yet another woman with the fork in his hand as she walked past, and last night I saw him throw a man against a fence on my block and then walk away.

I am afraid that he is escalating to violence, and I am afraid of being a victim of that. But what can I do besides hope he does something soon that will lock him back up?

Thanks,

Bed-Stuy Betty

A native New Yorker responds:

Dear Betty,

If a crazy person was chasing me and my neighbors around the block, spitting and waving around a fork, I'd call 911 and report an attempted assault—remember, menacing is a crime. If the individual in question was less aggressive, and was simply establishing an encampment which blocks your stoop, I'd follow NYC.gov's advice, and file a "homeless person complaint" with 311.

As we've discussed in previous posts, homeless people deserve to be treated with respect, and I encourage you to give money to charities which provide them with food and shelter. The vast majority of homeless people are not mentally ill, are not homeless for very long, and are on the streets through some combination of bad luck and our city's housing crisis.

Even when you're just talking about the unsheltered homeless—who are often mentally ill, dealing with addictions, and in and out of jail—few are violent. Think about the street homeless you see every day; most of them are focused on surviving.

Then there are the dangerous lunatics: the small minority of homeless people who stab strangers, push people in front of trains, rape passersby, etc. For these guys (and they're almost always men), society has to take a firm stance. Unfortunately that firm stance is usually jail, where they receive little treatment, and usually return months later angrier and more deranged than ever.

For the non-violent street homeless, a better approach would be comprehensive treatment programs, where housing is provided up front. For the few who are violent, the reestablishment of a small number of locked mental asylums with real medical support is probably the best we can do for now as a society. But leaving ill people out on the streets, to be dealt with by the cops and Department of Correction, is terribly shortsighted, especially in the richest city in the richest country in the history of the earth.

Anyway, you're probably not feeling too interested in a discussion of the politics of homelessness when a guy is chasing you up the stoop with a fork. Maybe some bleeding heart liberals would feel guilty dropping a dime on this crack-head, but I'm a pragmatist‚ and one of the most essential New York City maxims is "Don't Get Stabbed." So do what you've got to do, and then try to find a way to contribute to fixing the flawed system that put him on your block in the first place.

N.B.: Did you know pepper-spray is legal to possess in New York City, even if it's not legal to sell here? Just F.Y.I.! [Update: apparently it is actually legal to sell pepper spray, but only with the right permit. See comments below. You cannot, apparently, ship real pepper spray to yourself legally over state lines, though.]

Ask a Native New Yorker anything via email. Anonymity is assured.