From the parks of Berkeley to the streets of Brooklyn, and in most every large city in between, they have become an almost inescapable part of urban life.
Known by many names – “crusty punks,” “crusties,” “gutter punks,” “crumb bums” and “dirty kids,” to list but a few – this group of young adults has rejected a more traditional 9-to-5 lifestyle in favor of train hopping, panhandling and voluntary homelessness.
And while traditionally tolerated by police and urban residents, these transient groups of the unshaven and unwashed have been involved in a series of incidents in recent years — accompanied by an abundance of bad press — that has municipalities across the country puzzling over how to address the problem.
In New York City’s East Village, they have been spotted doing drugs in local parks, making camp outside of apartment buildings and sleeping outside storefronts. One crusty traveler’s pit bull even attacked a man and his small dog – killing the other dog.
“It’s like St. Marks in the ’70s,” New York City activist Philip DePaolo told the New York Daily News, referring to a once-notorious street in Manhattan. “It’s the bad old days all over again. There’s crack and heroin all over the neighborhood.”
And in Berkeley, Calif.’s infamous People’s Park, there have been widespread complaints about the modern-day hobos openly shooting heroin.
The drug use, the panhandling, the unruly dogs and the crusties’ general presence on street corners and in front of stores have all become too much for some cities, triggering local government crackdowns.