Some critics, however, warn the troll patrol is singling out and harassing the homeless.
But those critics are missing the point, said Chris Reefer, the troll patrol's originator, and spokesperson.
“We formed out of frustration over people public urinating, openly doing drugs around schools, hopping fences and trespassing, sucker-punching people, committing assaults and break-ins, drawing weapons, etc.” said Reefer.
“It’s been so nerve-wracking, people don’t even want to go to the mom-and-pop shops or to Saratoga Park or to surf,” he said. So Reefer started a Facebook page of the same name as the group in order to “keep the momentum going” and to serve as a “wake-up call.”
The troll patrol, now numbering upwards of a thousand advocates since it started in May, is targeting “trolls,” not the homeless, according to Reefer.
“A troll refers to a form of behavior (aggressive panhandling, bad manners, public intoxication, loitering, bike theft, sexual assault, breaking into homes),” said Reefer, not any sort of person.
“You can be homeless, mentally ill or troubled by substance abuse and not be a troll,” Reefer added. “You could be a trust fund millionaire and be the worst troll on Newport Avenue. Being homeless is often not a choice while being a troll is ‘always’ a choice.
A recent “random sample” taken by the Peninsula Beacon of people along Ocean Beach’s seawall near the pier, found some sympathetic to the troll patrol — and others decidedly not.
Artist “Stony” was appreciative of the group’s efforts.
“This is Ocean Beach’s way of locals being able to keep track of what’s going on, because there’s some gnarly [expletive] that happens, and some people with troubled minds down here,” Stony said. “It’s a self-governing body that came up on its own. If somebody gets crazy, everyone gets together and says, ‘Get the hell out of here.’ That’s the energy we’re talking about.”
A homeless person on the seawall, identifying herself as “Mama T,” disagreed with Stony’s take on the troll patrol.
“It's not necessary,” she said. “They’re terrorizing. It’s not cool.”
Added Mama T: “We have our own enforcers to take care of a bad situation. We’re warriors. We keep people in check. We don’t need police.”
Transgressions against OB’s homeless are very real, according to Mama T.
Trying to explain the angst, Mama T noted, “You can’t have all this beauty and paradise without having a dark side. The dark side is drugs, and people sleeping on the street, and the troll hunters. They hunt us down and set on us for sleeping. They’re taking it way way too far.”
Disability rights attorney Ann E. Menasche, who is representing homeless people living in their vehicles, said she hadn’t heard of the troll patrol. But she noted: “They are clearly vigilantes targeting the most vulnerable residents of the City. They are no better than racist vigilante groups that attack immigrants.”
Added Menasche, “If [troll patrols] were truly concerned with the homelessness crisis, they would stop blaming the victims and demand that the City take decisive action by passing effective rent control and going after real estate speculators that are turning this city into a place only for the wealthy.”
Denny Knox, executive director of Ocean Beach MainStreet Association, pointed out “the transient bad actor problem is improving.”
“We are working with SDPD and our security every day to address the ever-changing situation,” said Knox. “Residents and visitors are fed up with crime and gross behavior. Some of them are peacefully moving the bad behaviorists along and suggesting they leave the area if these folks can’t be respectful of our community.”
Added Knox: “I think we should stop referring to them as homeless. Many of these bad behaviorists are on drugs, alcohol, or just bad actors. They aren’t necessarily homeless who need shelter. The locals who are engaging with some of these folks and walking them out of town are careful to focus on the bad behaviorists. Everyone, including SDPD, our security team, and locals offer services and work on being compassionate, yet firm.”