01/15/2006 03:31 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Bomb Scare Results In One Less Homeless Man In San Francisco

It starts with a bomb threat, or the threat of a bomb. A homeless man, a flashlight found on the street and left in the bathroom at the Starbucks on Van Ness. His name is Ronald Schouten. He's been homeless for at least a year. There's strong evidence of mental illness, of a life lived alone in single residency occupancy hotels. The news goes national, CNN covers events as they unfold. A bomb, they say, in a bathroom. A building evacuated, the explosive device hit with high powered hoses. A small explosion. The device sent in for testing.

It leads to an arrest. The man caught on Starbucks security cameras arrested the next day leaving Circuit City. He's still wearing the same clothes. Unshowered. He's stolen electronics and carries them in a bag from the same Starbucks. He says he loves Starbucks, they give him coffee for only fifty cents. He says he loves the police, the people of San Francisco, and he's sorry, so sorry, he left a flashlight on the floor there. He meant no harm.

It finishes in the jail. Robert lives on the margins, missed his court date, was discovered with a small amount of cocaine. The only news is that there is no news. The police chief says he'd do it again. In a post 9/11 world you can't be too cautious. The moral of the story is this: be careful what you carry in your bag. You don't know when the net will land or what they'll find or how they'll use it against you when they do. Stay away from the edge of society, you're most vulnerable there. Get a job, don't be a crazy person, don't think you can hide in the streets or the SRO. And remember, whoever you are, there are pictures, and you too could get caught up in the net, crazy or not. If they don't find a bomb they'll find something else.

- Stephen Elliott