Criminalizing homelessness and random acts of kindness

Attention readers! Lock up your wives and your daughters, bar your windows and doors, and prepare to defend yourself! Heinous criminals in Fort Lauderdale were caught (GASP!) distributing food to the homeless! I think I feel faint…

According to NBC News, a new ordinance against providing food to the needy in Fort Lauderdale, Florida has landed  Arnold Abbott, 90, and Christian ministers Dwayne Black of the Sanctuary Church in Fort Lauderdale and Mark Sims of St. Mary Magdalene Episcopal Church in Coral Springs in some hot water with the police. They were issued citations and could face a $500 fine or 60 days in jail. The official ordinance, according to the article, “requires groups handing out food to homeless to be at least 500 feet away from residential properties. It limits feeding sites for homeless to one in any given city block, and prevent feeding sites from being within 500 feet of each other.”

This is the latest effort of communities across the nation to criminalize homelessness and strangers’ random acts of kindness toward homeless people. Some cities are redesigning park benches to more closely resemble individual seats or round them off so that if you try to lie down on them, you roll off. Other cities are putting in spikes to prevent people from laying down on the concrete under building overhangs. Curfews for park usage, signs that state you can’t lie down on park benches or sit on sidewalks, and strict loitering punishments are all aimed at ridding homeless people from the sight of those of us who are lucky enough to have a home. Call it part of the war on drugs or a necessary step to prevent teens from getting into trouble, or whatever you want to call it so that you can sleep at night, the purpose and effect of such measures is making criminals out of people for not being able to afford to own or rent a home.

Obviously, homeless people are not very attractive to the rest of society. They often look dirty and probably don’t get to bathe very often. Many people find the homeless approaching them for the purposes of panhandling. But, just because you don’t want to see these people or be approached by them doesn’t mean that they don’t exist and aren’t human beings just like the rest of us. In fact, the only difference between them and everyone else is that everyone else has been relatively lucky in their lives.

Yet, it would seem that some people in society simply wants unluck folks to drop off the face of the earth if they lose their job and lose their home while in the process of trying to find another one. They think that someone who was bankrupted by medical bills should have just taken the route of foregoing treatment in favor of keeping a roof over their head. Most shockingly, they also tend to think that tax dollars collected mostly from the middle class and the poor are best spent on physical and legal deterrents to homeless people spending more than a few minutes in any one spot.

One would think that all those wonderful tax breaks we give to businesses and billionaires to create jobs would, you know, cause some jobs to be created. However, if you actually ask a business owner to create some jobs with their tax breaks, they will most likely tell you that they have all the people they need and that hiring superfluous employees would be damaging to their bottom line. Apparently, they believe the best use for their tax breaks is to pad their already inflated bank balances instead of creating jobs according to the purported intention of the breaks.

Therefore, my proposal is to take tax breaks intended to allow businesses to create jobs away from businesses that are not using their tax breaks to create jobs. Then, we use that money to create public jobs cleaning up parks, removing graffiti from public areas, removing those nasty spikes from public sidewalks that happen to be under overhangs, and making park benches back into benches. That way, the public sector can use former tax breaks to create jobs that businesses refused to create when they had the opportunity to do so.

The first people accepted for these jobs will of course be homeless people so they might actually have a shot at getting their life back together. This would be very much preferable to condemning them to a vicious cycle of homelessness brought on by lack of employment, lack of employment brought on my lack of hygiene, and lack of hygiene brought on by homelessness.

Homeless people are just people who don’t happen to have a permanent residence at this time. No one who is homeless chose that lifestyle. They very much have the same needs of food, water, and shelter that everyone else does. Since they lack a structural shelter, they often have to improvise to ward off mother nature. They sometimes have to grit their teeth and ask total strangers for handouts of food so they can have the strength to go out, look for, find, and potentially keep a job. They cannot simply disappear from the planet when they no longer own an abode. Placing spikes on the ground, converting benches into dual seats, and preventing people from kindly offering them a nutritious meal they might need in order to hold down a job if they’re offered one isn’t going to end poverty or make sure that these people find a home. Creating jobs specifically for the homeless with the intention of getting them off the street will.