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Homelessness: Man's Inhumanity to Man

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There is no question that every political issue has at least two sides -- the pros and the cons. Issues involving homelessness are no different. However, when weighing the impact of both sides of homelessness issues, often one side appears to have a greater impact upon humanity than the other. In other words, in analyzing the issues of homelessness, the sides are not necessarily even. In fact, sometimes the impact of the political decisions relating to homelessness can be cruel.

For example, there are municipal ordinances in many cities prohibiting sleeping on public land, including beaches and parks. On the positive side, these laws protect public property from overuse -- an important goal so that members of these communities can continue to share open spaces. However, homeless people may experience the impact of these laws as depriving them of a legal place to sleep.

The truth is that no city of which I am aware has adequate housing/shelter beds for its homeless population. Without available housing, many homeless people remain unsheltered.

At night unsheltered homeless people need to sleep somewhere, be it on public property or private property. Sleeping on private property is prohibited by the law of trespass, therefore, it is not a legal option for homeless people.

When cities enact ordinances prohibiting the sleeping upon public land, they remove the last opportunity for unsheltered homeless people to sleep legally. The result of these ordinances is that the police are authorized to issue illegal lodging tickets upon people who are sleeping on public property but who have no other place to sleep.

Of course, sleep is essential for the physical and mental health of all human beings. Without sleep, unsheltered homeless people cannot function at optimum level. But by sleeping on public property, they may be subjected to ticketing for illegal lodging and their consequences.

So, weighing the pros and cons of municipal ordinances that prohibit sleeping on public property, we can contrast the goal of protecting public lands from overuse with the potential negatives on unsheltered human beings who will be denied a legal place to sleep. It appears to me that the negatives outweigh the positives on this issue.

A number of cities have passed municipal ordinances that prohibit the charitable giving of food. They often feel that Good Samaritans who freely distribute food are encouraging homeless people to come to these cities and may even be encouraging people to become homeless so they can receive free food.

Without free food, homeless people often go hungry and have insufficient vitamin intake thereby potentially suffering impaired physical and mental well-being. As many doctors know, starvation is one of the most challenging medical conditions for human beings. Hunger hurts.

It is my opinion that the consequences of municipal ordinances prohibiting the charitable giving of food have a more negative impact upon human beings than positive.

Recently, increasing numbers of cities are passing ordinances prohibiting the sitting on public sidewalks. Among the reasons these cities give to support the passage of these ordinances is that when homeless people sit, they block the sidewalks.

Access to public sidewalks is obviously important, especially when walking may be a more physically and environmentally helpful activity than driving cars.

However, homeless people often have few places to sit. When going about their business, including looking for work, they may need to rest. Public chairs and benches are normally found in parks and beaches that may not be conveniently located. So, they may sit on the public sidewalk.

It seems to me that the impact of prohibiting people from sitting on public sidewalks has more negative consequences by eliminating resting places for human beings than it has positive outcomes.

In addition, there are a number of seemingly small municipal decisions that have major negative consequences upon homeless people, particularly unsheltered homeless people. Take the mid-bench bars that prohibit people from lying flat on bus benches. Often these bars go unnoticed by housed people.

However, in the past, unsheltered homeless people sometimes used these bus benches as safe places to sleep. I recall "The Women of Wilshire" -- the approximately 25 unsheltered senior citizen homeless women who lived on Wilshire Boulevard from 7th to the Palisades Park in Santa Monica. At night, overhead street lights lit the bus benches and The Women of Wilshire used them as beds, hoping that sleeping in a well-lit public place would bode well for their personal safety as they slept.

With the imposition of the mid-bench bars, The Women of Wilshire were no longer able to stretch out and sleep on the bus benches.

Certainly it could be said that the mid-bench bars successfully prevented and prevent unsheltered homeless people from occupying bus benches as beds.

However, I wonder if without available adequate housing, whether denying an unsheltered homeless person some sort of place to sleep is just cruel.

Other apparently neutral decisions on the part of municipalities that can negatively impact homeless people are the cities' landscaping choices. For example, in public parks, grassy areas have sometimes been replaced with bushes so that homeless people cannot recline, even during the day, on the grass.

Of course, there are many municipal ordinances that make great sense in that their positive consequences outweigh the negative. However, in the examples sited above, I believe that these municipal actions create an environment where homeless people are negatively impacted. And reflect man's inhumanity to man.