Are all of the men and women who claim to be homeless in the Coachella Valley really homeless?

How do we know?

We take them at their word and some of us, hoping to help a fellow man or woman, open our hearts – and wallets – to shell out what we can?

But are we being hoodwinked by some?

I think so.

More on that in a minute.

The Riverside County Department of Public and Social Services this week released data on the homeless count in the Coachella Valley. In January when the count was conducted, there were 459 homeless people, a 37 percent hike from the same period a year ago.

So, I went in search of one those people. I wanted to hear his story.
And, I knew exactly where to go.

Like clockwork, this man stands vigil at the intersection of Canyon Plaza and East Palm Canyon Drive, as shoppers head toward Target, Starbucks, El Pollo Loco and other shops. He holds a tattered cardboard sign identifying himself as homeless.

On Wednesday, he was neatly dressed in a nice clean shirt and shorts.

He was there during the holiday season and I graciously opened my wallet.

Nearly four months later, he’s still there.

As I approached him, he refused to answer any questions and stopped short of threatening me. I had my cell phone and was going to take his photo.

“Do you like that phone?” he sneered.

I suddenly was afraid, fearful he was going to grab the phone and break it and hurt me.

What did he have to hide?

He’s standing in a public place, portraying himself as homeless for all the word to see. And, suddenly he’s shy?

I explained that he was in a public place and I certainly had the right to photograph him in a public place. He argued with me and scampered away and hid behind a tree trunk.

I was confused.

I left anxious with doubt and certainly left with more questions than answers.

Is he really homeless?

I doubt it.

I believe there are legitimate homeless people in this valley. He is likely not one of them. A better description might be scam artist or fraud.