OAKLAND -- Montclair residents are complaining about aggressive soliciting and panhandling in Montclair Village.
Montclair has always been fertile ground for solicitors, but lately, some residents have complained that their tactics have become aggressive and unpleasant. Daniel Swafford, executive director of the Montclair Village Association, said that his office has received an increasing number of complaints about aggressive behavior in the past couple of months.
Kenneth Adams, who uses a wheelchair, stations himself on the sidewalk between Lucky and Rite Aid on Mountain Boulevard, pedaling the Street Spirit newspaper.
"One minute, he is singing and telling people how beautiful they are, and then he snaps and becomes verbally abusive," Swafford said.
"He sings when he's happy, but when he's drunk, he is totally outrageous," resident Carole Evans said. Evans said that she tried to file a complaint with the police but was told that he had to actually do something for a report to be filed.
But Montclair resident Evelyn Sinclair was able to file a police report following a run-in she had with Adams. She said she defended herself with her umbrella after a verbal altercation with Adams, which prompted him to rise from his wheelchair and follow her down the street.
"I've been so tired of him for so long. If you ask him to change, it sets him off," Sinclair said. "Montclair Village is not used to it. People give money, and it encourages him. He is getting bolder. It's like feeding bears at a picnic site. It encourages dangerous situations for everybody."
"This is my community, too. I'm a resident of Oakland. I come here because this is my safe place," Adams responded. "There are no robberies, and certainly no gunfire or straight-out flying bullets. I feel safer here than in my apartment."
"You don't need to be afraid of me; I'm helpless," said Adams, who said he is disabled and suffering from cancer. "I would intervene if I saw a crime. These people are my brothers and sisters."
Adams said that he first came to Montclair Village in 1982 when he worked as a driver for a business owner who lived in the area and has felt at home here ever since.
"He's a positive presence in the village," resident Jean Armstrong said. "He's a happy person. He sings, smiles and talks about interesting times. He doesn't actively ask people for money."
"He's a nice old man. He's a character. The world needs a few more characters," resident Barbara Cameron said. "I like him. He sings and says nice things. He never interferes with anyone going by, as far as I can tell."
Jason Trode, Montclair's problem solving officer for the Oakland Police Department, said "public awareness is key. There are lots of services through city and private organizations."
"Giving cash to people on the street isn't the best idea," Swafford pointed out. "Organizations need support. They can stretch donations really far, instead of feeding someone's addiction.
The point is, it can actually be potentially dangerous to enable people to indulge in their addictions and not get the help they need."