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Feb

Homelessness is one of those things that everyone cares about, but few people do anything about. So, I was pretty upset when I read this editorial about a town in California that actually is helping the homeless. What thanks do they get? A lawsuit!

Heather Mac Donald writes that lawyers charge the city officials with carrying out a “deliberate campaign of abuse against the homeless.” The city’s homeless have access to “coffee and Danish brought to the park every weekday morning; bag lunches and dinner feedings; showers, laundry and kitchen facilities at a drop-in center; and shelter during the winter months.” It sounds to me like that city is trying to help the homeless. But apparently, these lawyers are not impressed.

Just to recap, the city is giving free food, showers, laundry, and shelter to the homeless. But some lawyers have accused the city of abusing the homeless. What are the lawyers upset about? They’re upset that the city is occasionally enforcing its no-camping ordinance.

Homeless people have to sleep somewhere. So what happens when the city spends thousands (millions?) of dollars to build a playground for children, but people are afraid to let their children play there because homeless people sleep on the benches during the day?

I pondered this question one time when I saw a policeman trying to get a homeless guy to leave a playground. I was there with a group of kids from the summer day camp where I worked. When we arrived, I noted the homeless man with a little bit of alarm. He looked like he was asleep, but I wondered what would happen if he woke up and started attacking us in a drug-crazed frenzy.

Or, more likely, if he approached me or one of the other leaders asking for money.

Hey, give the homeless guy a break! He’s got to sleep somewhere! And he isn’t hurting the kids. Yeah, I thought that myself for a minute.

But I couldn’t deny my fear. If I had been alone with a toddler, instead of accompanied by two other women, and two dozen or so 8-10 year-olds, I wouldn’t have stayed at the playground with the homeless guy.

So I was glad when the policeman made him leave even though I wanted the man to have somewhere to sleep. If he wants to sleep on the playground at night when the kids are at home, fine. But not during the day. The playground was built for the kids, not the homeless man. And that’s where things like no-camping ordinances come in.

If these lawyers really want to help homeless people, then they can start with Bobby. My husband met Bobby when he was sitting on the little wall in our front yard. He looked hot and tired, so Tim offered him a drink and talked to him for a few minutes.

Bobby has been back dozens of times since then. He always comes back to ask us for money. We don’t like to give him money, because he buys beer and cigarettes with it. I don’t think those things are helping him improve his situation. So usually, we give him a meal, or at least a sandwich, and the Coke that he demands.

Bobby visited us once in the middle of the night. I’m not sure why, but I think he wanted money and food. And apparently he didn’t realize that it was 2 in the morning. I had a hard time forgiving him for that. Do you know how upsetting it is to be woken up in the middle of the night by someone yelling and beating on your front door?

But the worst thing about Bobby is that somehow, he tries to make us responsible for his well being. He tries to guilt us into giving him money. He’s come by on cold nights begging to sleep in our house. I’m sorry, but that’s where I draw the line. I’m afraid that if I let him in for one night, he would never go away. The thing is, our city has shelters for men like him. Tim has offered to take him to a shelter on those cold nights, but he usually won’t go. There are programs to help people like him get jobs. He told us once that he was going to enroll in a program like that, but then he was back at our doorstep, begging for money.

I can’t take responsibility for Bobby. He’s a grown man. If he wants to live a normal life, then he should take advantage of the programs in place to help him. But since he refuses to do that, since he chooses to stay homeless, he shouldn’t expect me to finance his lifestyle.

It’s the same way for those homeless guys in California. If those people choose to give the homeless people food, shelter, and a way out of homelessness, then that’s great. It’s good to help the homeless. But the homeless don’t have the right to demand how they will be helped. And if they reject help, and choose to remain homeless, then they certainly don’t have the right to make other people’s lives miserable.

So instead of suing people that are already helping the homeless, those fancy lawyers should come to my neighborhood tonight and try to find Bobby. They could bring him a nice meal, and give him money to buy beer and cigarettes. It’s supposed to be cold tonight, and I’m sure he would like to stay at one of their houses. He might stay with them forever. Or maybe he would miss being homeless.

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