Ending Homelessness or Saving Lives?

By | Apr 17, 2012

I can only imagine losing my job, then my house, then ending up sleeping behind a trash bin behind the local grocery store. What I cannot imagine is waking up in the dead of night by a swirl of red lights and a jab in the ribs from a cop’s billy club. And then to be legally ticketed for being homeless just seems wrong.

Is it against the law to lose your employment, your house, and to desperately find some safe and warm place to sleep outside? I don’t think so.

When homeless advocates seek to protect the personal rights of people who are homeless, even to the extent of law suits, I typically applaud their efforts. It is very simple: homelessness is not a crime.

But fighting for the rights of homeless persons, to the level of demanding their right to live like squatters on the street, does not make sense.

I don’t believe the makers of the U.S. Constitution intended to encourage Americans to subsist on our streets, worse off than how our household pets live. Or to encourage the piling up of junk in front of places of business, to the point that customers are turned away.

Critics of some homeless advocates say that defending homeless people’s rights is wrongfully enabling homelessness. On the other hand, some homeless advocates proudly state they are enabling homeless persons. They feel they are saving their lives.

What is the fine line between defending a person’s civil rights on the streets and enabling them to stay on the streets?

Cities across the country are struggling to protect the personal property of homeless persons while protecting their streets from health hazards. Is stopping cities from cleaning up trash on the streets saving lives?

Lawsuits across the nation are stopping communities from preventing panhandling, outdoor feeding, overnight sleeping, overnight parking, and even distributing shopping carts to homeless persons.

Yet, when the ordinances do pass, they sometimes don’t fully make sense. In some business districts there are laws that prevent people from sitting or lying down, with the goal of preventing those perennial homeless persons from bothering their customers. I wonder what would happen if I was dressed in my button-down shirt and Banana Republic slacks, and happened to sit down on the ground leaning against my briefcase? I wonder if I would get a ticket, or simply be asked to move on?

The extreme stakeholders of a community that encounters homelessness are pitting against each other like the Tea Party against ultra-liberals, with the lives of homeless persons caught in between. Give homeless persons the right to live on the streets, health hazards and all? Or arrest them, as if homelessness is a crime?

If we are going to sue communities to protect the rights of our homeless neighbors, how about fight for their rights to permanent housing?

If I were sleeping on the streets, the only wake-up call I would want is a nudge from a compassionate social worker asking me if I wanted to move into a new apartment.

Photo credit: Rosie O’Beirne


  1. Posted Apr 19, 2012 at 12:24 am | Permalink

    I don't consider helping people with a basic human right (housing) "enabling". These people who think showing simple human compassion is enabling somebody to remain homeless are out of touch with reality. I am a homeless person who is also an advocate to get people off the streets and get the help they need to lead productive lives. How convenient for some minds to focus on their preconceived notions of "enabling" homeless people to remain homeless. These same people should be sentenced to do community service at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen to see what it's like. If protecting human rights and dignity is "enabling" in a negative manner then society has enabled itself down a dark road indeed.

  2. zondre johnson
    Posted May 21, 2012 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

    I truly like what you said, but we must also face the reality of what people really feel about the homeless. Some will never understand what it fell like until they wear the shoes of individuals face who this matter every awaking day. Being homeless in the the right state of mind is very challenging. There are so many issues to deal with. If you are mentally challenged then that is your validation to the situation but if you not than you are prey on from all area of the spectrum. From temporary housing to finding a job. The prejudice of your condition show every time you give your truth. Well at some point i feel condemn all the way across the board. Where I live, where I've been, my race, my gender, my skills, my age all has become a factor of who I am today. People say that does not matter but who are we fooling yes it does even if a person of profession don't say it they are thinking it. Just like getting housing is like winning the lottery. So when you talk about a sentence of homeless people remain homeless, your right.