Clown Taunts People in a Homeless Encampment

clown taunts homeless encampment

No Laughing Matter: Dressed in an Elf Costume, Slumlord Attempts to Blow Dollar Bills at Homeless People

July 12th, 2019 was a very gray day for the down-trodden and poverty-stricken to endure. It marks the date of the time when a costume-clad zealot stampeded a city accompanied by his minions (yes, actual minions) while armed with a leaf blower and a bag full of dollar bills. He entered, minions in tow, billowing patriotic Eagle balloons trailing behind. He harbored a large sign of printed construction paper that read as follows:






As if the words were not insulting enough, an image of a brown paper bag with a $ sign and banded cash wads overflowing emblazoned the bottom left-hand corner of the sign. The zealot, a known slumlord and real estate developer named Gene Gorelik, fully intended to engage homeless people in something he referred to as “a game”…

At this point, you might realize you’ve witnessed something like this before, but you can’t quite put your finger on where you saw it. Truth be told, this whole charade is an eerie rendition of a scene out of a 1989 Batman film. It’s that one where the Joker threw a parade and showered the poor people of Gotham with dollar bills, and of course, toxins. It’s the scene you thought could never happen in real life. Alas, it has, minus the toxins, but we can never be too certain.

One can only imagine how this sick little “game” might have ended if Gorelik was not stopped in the middle of his act. Fortunately, video footage of him being escorted in his mint candy-striped getup and “Make Oakland Great Again” headwear has already surfaced on YouTube. One might even argue that he didn’t do any real damage in the time he was there. That could not be further from the truth.

“Operation Save Home Depot”: What it Was and What it Says About Our Society

This theater-esque performance that took place at a homeless encampment near an Oakland, California Home Depot is bigger than the elf, obviously. It makes a much larger statement regarding where we stand as a society, particularly on the issues of homelessness and poverty. On the surface, there is this elaborate display of disrespect that has rightfully outraged many homeless advocates. Twitter is ablaze with comments chastising the MOGA elf with words like “dehumanizing, flabbergasting, and petty” serving as ongoing themes when describing the debacle. Also exposed are Gorelik’s character and lack of compassion for his own tenants.

However, just below the surface, there exists a much deeper statement regarding societal trends.

Gorelik is just the most recent example of our nation’s wealthy tycoons using money, influence, and misleading speech to highjack protestation, an action poor people have traditionally used to uphold and/or acquire human rights.

Subliminally, when we think protest, we think human rights, not oppressing human rights. But recent protests have served the latter.

In this case, Gorelik’s operation was undoubtedly about clearing an encampment, not saving a Home Depot, or saving any other kind of home for that matter. If you take a moment to ponder the narrative, it becomes clear that if a homeless man arrived at Home Depot on a boom lift and began humiliating customers with a leaf blower, police would have arrested him rather than escorting him to a safe location.

To demonstrate this further, here are some examples of what happens when homeless people protest things:

  • In Sacramento, two homeless men protesting anti-camping laws were arrested out front of City Hall and issued multiple citations.
  • Ten homeless protestors were formally charged with misdemeanors in Kalamazoo.
  • Dozens of homeless people who weren’t even protesting in Miami, were arrested for merely sitting on crates.

It’s difficult to say what Gorelik is doing at this very moment. Perhaps he is laughing maniacally while reading an excerpt of this post to his minions. Perhaps he is wearing a skimpy white nurse costume and walking into a children’s hospital. One thing is certain: he is not checking a guilty or not guilty box for a formally issued misdemeanor charge. This leads into the last unsettling aspect of his twisted game.

Gorelik is likely a victim of a repetitive false narrative being spread about homeless people.

In this world, there are people who are willfully ignorant and others who are genuinely ignorant. One of the scant benefits to donning an elf costume in public is you make it hard to tell the difference. Reading between the lines of the real estate developer’s sign, it becomes clear that he might have genuinely (and wrongly!!!) believed that homeless people are homeless by choice – that they are just sitting around waiting for free money. Evidence of this exists in the fact that he didn’t offer anyone enough money to afford housing. He merely offered them a couple of thousand dollars, which certainly won’t pay long-term rental costs.

It is also possible Gorelik believes homeless people are responsible for criminal activity at his local Home Depot. The errant slogan “Save Home Depot” suggests homeless people pose a certain threat to the store. While both of these ideas are completely off-base, it’s important to note Gorelik didn’t invent these narratives. He merely supports them and likely believes them.

Here are a Few Facts About the Man in the Costume

Gorelik has seen his fair share of legal woes for allegedly damaging a tenant’s property while she was in the home. He is also no stranger to made-up personas. In a 2017 interview with FOX KTVU, he publicly compared himself to a “character in a Kafka novel.”

His choice to dress as an elf and offer “Christmas in July” is a cruel twist once you learn about him wrongfully evicting a woman on that very holiday. Medieval German folklore depicted elves as mischievous white beings. In other cultures, they are gift givers. It’s scary to think this man might look in the mirror and see himself as all these things. But it’s scarier when you realize this might all be a smokescreen cover for something a bit more heinous.

Is Gorelik Just a Mad Dog Chasing Cars?

Much like the Joker, this overly eccentric real estate developer is just one face of chaos in the crowd. The bigger villains are less overt, more organized individuals. Due to Gorelik’s wicked farce, these darker forces now have the luxury of hiding in plain sight.

For even though the elf was temporarily moved to a Home Depot parking lot, inside sources reveal that the encampment will be permanently moved. It will be less dramatic, but a much more vicious action fueled by even wealthier developers who are wearing smiles instead of costumes. Many reporters have proclaimed Gorelik didn’t get his way, since he was unable to continue his humiliating pony show. But truth be told, the encampment is slated to be cleared. And that’s exactly what he was hoping to achieve.

Speak Out Against the Clearing of Encampments. Speak Up for the Construction of Affordable Homes.

Merely moving homeless people from one location to the next is never the solution. Affordable housing is the most crucial part of the plan to end homelessness. Be sure to ask your representatives what kind of permanent solutions they have to offer residents of encampments before they simply move their tents and confiscate their possessions.

Cynthia Griffith

Cynthia Griffith


Cynthia Griffith is a freelance writer dedicated to social justice and environmental issues.

Related Topics

Your support can create amazing change

Join the campaign to end homelessness by supporting the only newsroom focused solely on the topic of homelessness. Our original reporting — posted five to seven days a week — can also be found on Apple News and Google News. Through storytelling, education, news, and advocacy, we are changing the narrative on homelessness.

Invisible People is a nonprofit organization. We rely on the support of friends like you — people who understand that well-written, carefully researched stories can change minds about this issue. And that’s what leads to true transformation and policy change. Our writers have their fingers on the pulse of homeless communities. Many are formerly or currently homeless themselves. They are the real experts, passionate about ending homelessness. Your support helps us tell the true story of this crisis and solutions that will end it. Your donations help make history by telling the real story of homelessness to inspire tangible actions to end it.

Your donation, big or small, will help bring real change.


Get the Invisible People newsletter


Where Will She Go? Homeless Woman's Heartbreaking Struggle.


Homeless Veteran's ID Taken by Police Stripped of Access to Shelter


Homeless Man Across from the White House


A Homeless Man's Struggle for Survival in San Diego



poverty is lucrative for wealthy people

Poverty Makes Wealthy People More Rich

sanctioned encampments are no better than unsanctioned encampments

Are Municipalities Turning to Sanctioned Encampments to Get Around Martin v. Boise?

climate change and the impact on unsheltered homeless veterans

Unsheltered Homeless Veterans in California Exposed to Deadly Floods and More

United Nations pushes back on criminalization of homelessness in the US

Criminalization of Homelessness Is a ‘Rampant’ Problem, Advocates Tell U.N.

Get the Invisible People newsletter