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Joel John Roberts Headshot

Is Fighting For the Rights of Homeless, Enabling Homelessness?

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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. 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.