I think I protest!

Most people who know me know I’m about as political as… socks (or pick something absolutely non-political), and so consequently politics and all things government are almost never discussed here on ‘wonderment.’ I’m going to have to stray from that path for a moment and discuss a recent law Las Vegas passed [link removed]. Read the article first. I’ll wait.

Done? OK.

I don’t want to sound like an extremist here, or, God forbid, liberal, but I think that’s the biggest load of [Republican] crap I’ve heard in quite a while. [Nevada is a red state – I looked it up. And, for the record, before anyone gets offended, I’m just slightly Democratic, like… 51% or something. I test right down the middle of the road. And if you’re easily offended by things political, I can understand why you might enjoy reading this blog, since we never discuss that stuff, but you might have to go read someone else’s blog today. It’s alright. I won’t be offended.]

Now I realize I have a slightly different perspective on homelessness and that whole world than the average citizen. Take into account the following:

  • I grew up in a Christian home and have been part of several Christian communities where serving those less-fortunate has not only been encouraged but sometimes promoted as saintly.
  • In high school, our youth group went to a soup kitchen to volunteer a couple of times. We also had events where we collected soup cans for the food bank or otherwise did something beneficial like that. When I was volunteering with the junior high youth group, we took a weekend trip into Chicago and painted apartments in Cabrini Green (so that they would be available for people to move into, something that the management couldn’t keep ahead of, which resulted in fewer subsidized housing units unless the community helped out). That was an eye opener (especially when I temporarily lost a junior higher, but that’s not relevant to this conversation).
  • In college, we had a group of students that went down to lower Wacker Drive in Chicago (Ctrl-F to search the page for “Wacker”) to feed sack lunches to the homeless there once a month, and I often participated, until I 1) had a boyfriend, and later 2) they closed lower Wacker Drive and “cleaned it up.” [link removed]
  • Also in college, I chaired the Missions Committee, a part of Student Senate. We planned the spring break Missions trips (which I’m getting to), and also local missions opportunities. We went to Nashville several times and worked in an extremely impoverished neighborhood with a children’s’ program. I remember clearly a little girl sitting on my lap on the swings, maybe 6 or 7, telling me about how her dad beat her mom and that’s why her mom lost the baby. In Chicago, with CSM, we went on a prayer tour of the city, which highlighted areas that were in need of God’s hand (that would be you and I, by the way), including housing projects, government buildings, parks where the homeless would sleep, neighborhoods with high volumes of adult entertainment centers and bars, etc. This was a pivotal experience for me, that resulted in my summer spent in San Francisco.
  • Then I spent the summer between my junior and senior years of college working for CSM in San Francisco (Dana was my boss, if you read partway down the page, and all those projects outlined we worked with). We lived in the Salvation Army building in the Tenderloin neighborhood (you really should read the first few paragraphs of that article), which was an experience in itself. There I daily worked with the homeless, the impoverished, families in transitional housing, people who chose to be homeless, people dying of AIDS, etc. I cannot go into enough detail to explain how this changes my view compared to the rest of America.
  • I also spent a summer in Arizona, and while nobody was homeless, we did work with a community that had a very low income rate and the majority were unemployed (70-85%).

So, you see, I have seen first-hand how government money, community efforts, kindness of strangers, hard work, etc, can positively work in people’s lives. Don’t misunderstand me – I refuse to give money to people on the street, but if I had a granola bar with me, I’d certainly pass that on. Especially in communities where the housing vacancy rate is around 1% and affordable housing is non-existent (like San Francisco), sometimes throwing money at the problem, like in the case of transitional housing shelters for families, does work.

And at the very least, even if there’s absolutely no government assistance whatsoever, there are [almost] always caring individuals in a community who want to make a difference in an individual’s life, or who want to bring more meaning to their own lives, or who just want to give back. And just on an individual level, what right does the government have to take away the satisfaction that helping out one less fortunate than you can bring?

I understand the concerns of a community with a growing homeless population. And the argument that people need more than a sandwich, they need social workers and doctors etc, is valid, but slightly off. Yes, people who are homeless, who desire to change their situation, will usually need the help of a community to do so, in the form of social workers and shelters and doctors and clothing and job readiness and …. the list goes on. But not everyone who is homeless desires to change their situation. And I’ve seen first-hand how that isn’t always a bad thing. I met some wonderful men in San Francisco who chose to be homeless and were perfectly content – they knew that the confines of life as you and I experience it were not for them, made them unhappy, or they just couldn’t adapt. And that was OK. Not everyone who is homeless is violent or belligerent or constantly asking for handouts or drunk. Sometimes they’re just people who step to the beat of a different drum. And in a community like San Francisco that is so open to the homeless population, there are social agencies that help, by providing free showers and toothbrushes, vegetarian soup kitchens, cots in shelters, etc.

The idea of actually making it illegal to make a tuna fish sandwich at home, pack it up, and take it to the homeless guy in the park across from your house… is abhorrible to me. Where does the law stop and start? If I walk over there and instead invite him into my home for dinner, is that a crime? Because it’s probably less safe for me than just handing over a sandwich. What if instead I hand over a business card to the local shelter or soup kitchen? Can I let him sleep on my front lawn? Can I give him things that aren’t food, like blankets or money? If I offer him a job in my warehouse, is that wrong too? Because all of those things could be construed as “enabling” and encouraging homelessness in a community.

Yes, that last part was a little extreme, and I did say I was going to try to avoid such statements. And I know some people have mentioned that when I write such long posts, even if I ask for comments, no one is going to leave them because it was too long. But I’m still going to end by asking for your comments. and , you’ve worked with some diverse populations of people and probably have some good views on this. And I’m going to stop talking before I sound like the guy on the bus last night who was militant that the US government owed him millions of dollars of restitution for the enslavement of his ancestors 300 years ago. Because that just made everyone uncomfortable.

13 Replies to “I think I protest!”

  1. None of the questions you raise in the end of your immoral or wrong. And although some of them may now be illegal Vegas, the police would NEVER arrest or fine you for offering a helping hand.

    They are only using the law to prevent disruptions to the public parks. Nothing more.

  2. And the government has EVERY right to do something like this when they are representing the voting citizens. That’s exactly what the government is there for.

  3. Further things I’ve found, that may or may not get your undies in a bunch.

    The mayor is quoted as saying: “Certain truths are self-evident,” Goodman said. “You know who’s homeless.”

    The ACLU filed a suit, and there’s plenty of good stuff from them on that, but I’m sure some people will dismiss their comments because they’re the ACLU.

    Also, while the intent of the law may be clear, it relies on “judgment calls” to be made on behalf of the police. And I think we’d all agree that sort of a situation could easily be abused if one wanted to. “Jerbic said police make judgment calls based on the severity of the crime, and this would be no different.”

    My favorite quote while looking into this was “criminalizing charity.”

    You can look into the ACLU’s comments, or the National Law Center on Homelessness.

    And while I still can’t find the actual wording of the law, this is as close as I got:
    “The ordinance, an amendment to an existing parks statute approved by the Council on July 19, bans the the providing of food or meals to the indigent for free or for a nominal fee. It goes on to say that an indigent person is a person whom a reasonable ordinary person would believe to be entitled to apply for or receive public assistance.”

    And while their intent may be one thing, the law clearly states another. Which just, as far as I can see it, opens the door for all sorts of things.

    However, in their defense (though I think this is just silly):
    “The ordinance says nothing about offering money to the homeless, and allows offering food to poor people on adjacent sidewalks…”

  4. And because Young’un and I respectfully disagree, I’m going to argue….

    The government is there to represent it’s citizens. All of them. Even the ones we don’t like and that smell and “disturb” the way we want to live our lives. Even the people that make it onto my pet peeves list. Even the ones that are silent because they don’t know how to speak up for themselves or don’t have any venue to. All of its citizens.

  5. The police hold power and, as with anyone in the world who may hold power, there is the potential for abuse. Pretending that this is a new concept as of the creation of this law is completely ridiculous. Police officers let blatant criminals get off with nothing more than a warning every day based on a judgement call. And I’m not just talking about speeding motorists… Just watch a few episodes of Cops (not to suggest that it’s representative… but they are real life cases) and see how many people ACTUALLY get arrested.

    When a debate is brought to lawmakers for a decision, one side will always be represented more favorably. It can’t be helped. A legal system will always feel just until it rules against an idea you believe it… but that makes it no less just.

    I’ll match your term “criminalizing charity” by saying that you’re acting with “reasoned hysteria”.

    You say that the law states something other than its intent. What exactly are you talking about?

  6. Alright, Young’un, let me answer briefly, since you asked a valid question, but also since I hope others (ahem, A, L) will jump into this conversation and give us their 5-cents as well. I don’t want them to think this is an argument between you and I.

    As far as your first two paragraphs go, I think I adressed some of those thoughts in my most recent post on this issue.

    As far as “reasoned hysteria” goes, I will put that in the category of “name calling” and/or “trying to provoke me” and will choose to ignore it.

    And on intent…

    You and I agreed that the intent of the law was good, and that was to preserve public peace and encourage the homeless towards organizations that will provide more holistic help.

    However, the law actually reads that it’s wrong to feed anyone who looks less fortunate than you.

    So their intent and the law do differ. I don’t think I’m splitting hairs here, though you may feel free to disagree.

    Lastly, even though you didn’t ask… I do agree with the ACLU on this one (duh), which is strange, because I often don’t. For instance, they support the legalization of marijuana, like you, and I completely disagree with that, even if I can’t clearly give an explanation for my opinion.

    This is why I don’t discuss politics. It just makes me frustrated, especially when I haven’t fully explored all of the research of an issue and others seem to argue their points more effectively. Perhaps this blog will again become politics-free….

    Anyone else want to jump in here?

  7. I disagree with young’un’s first comment: They are only using the law to prevent disruptions to the public parks. Nothing more.

    If that were the case, they would not have to target homeless people. There are plenty of noise/group policies that could have been implemented to limit the actions of everyone rather than picking out a particular group by their income/housing status.

    I would not argue that the intent was to prevent “disturbances” at all. Their intent was to discourage homeless people from hanging around the park. I don’t think there is any question about that. They want pretty parks and homeless people don’t fit into that picture.

    Whatever happened to our right to peacably assemble? Why do we always assume homeless people bring trouble? Where is the proof that this practice of feeding them in the park takes them away from service providers? As a service provider myself, I would like to point out that my agency (and most others like us) do NOT provide food, and likewise, most foodshelves and soup kitchens do not provide caseworkers or social workers.

  8. Furthermore, I would like to point out that this “picking on” homeless people by the governement is absolutely ridiculous. It is their fault most of these people are there.

    Under Reagan’s administration, many people in mental institutions were “mainstreamed”. Meaning they were put out onto the street without proper follow-up or services necessary to their condition. Perhaps many of them could have benefited from a transitional or half-way house envirionment, not needing all of the intensive services they were recieving, but they were not properly prepared (or in some cases ABLE to be prepared) for life on their own.

    Before governments go pointing fingers to homeless people as a nuisance or “disturbance” perhaps they should consider addressing the root problems, like mental health and lack of affordable housing.

  9. A, you brought up a point I forgot to, and that was the de-institutionalization movement that caused the number of homeless people in our nation to increase drastically. We did a terrible disservice to them and ourselves when we allowed this to happen (ok, maybe not you or me, since we weren’t of voting age at the time), and then blame them for being homeless. I learned all about this in multiple psychology and sociology classes, and it was truly an injustice towards those with mental illness (who make up an incredibly large percentage of the homeless in America, as well as a large percentage of those on any sort of public assistance – they are our largest client base as well; physical disabilities are no longer that great of a disability, but mental illness is a huge contributing factor to joblessness etc).

  10. In response to a’s comments…

    Although you have a right to peaceably assemble, that right does not extend to assembling in any public area at any time. Groups can only assemble when they don’t interfere with public health and safety. Furthermore, many cities require getting a permit for an assembly, such as a protest, before they happen. Vegas specifically requires a permit for an assembly involving 25 or more people. (And this was before this law came into existence.)

    According to people who live near to the parks in Vegas question, here is what was happening: Operaters of the so-called “mobile soup kitchens” were posting advertisements around town about their kitchens. The homeless would then overrun the park, use the park as a public toilet, and generally make a mess. At that point the citizens who otherwise use the park did what was fully within their rights, they appealed to the government to help with what they considered a problem.

    I’m sitting here listening to a radio show on this topic and numerous folk who work with or for homeless organizations of called in and gave this opinion: it is harmful to the homeless to give people food on the street, more-so when that food is a regular, organized event. Homeless shelters and programs are designed to help the homeless in more ways than filling their stomach. They can cloth them, shelter them, help them get work, and much more.

  11. OK, then, let me further say about intent, that if the intent of the ordinance was truly to stop mobile soup kitchens (and not target the homeless), then it should have been worded so. Often city ordinance (or state statutes) have large sections that define terms used. Instead of defining “indigent,” they should have defined “mobile soup kitchen,” and then wordsmithed an ordinance that specifically disallowed mobile soup kitchens, instead of all feeding of the homeless in general.

    Whatever radio show you were listening to, the opinions expressed there were not in the majority. In the hours I spent reading about this, I rarely found comments supporting the ordinance, except from the mayor and city attorney. Probably 80-90% of what I read (the first 10-15 pages of results on Google) were opposed to the city council actions for one reason or another. I haven’t even read anything by the Las Vegas citizens who had originally complained, defending the actions of the city council.

    Yes, the complaints of the citizens about what was happening in the park, as you noted, are a problem, which I have readily acknowledged several times. This ordinance does not actually specifically address those problems.

    And yes, organizations that provide multiple, holistic services beyond just a meal are, in the end, more beneficial to the homeless, as I’ve also already acknowledged. However, many homeless do not desire these services or are unwilling to be helped for a variety of reasons (mental illness, diagnosed or un-diagnosed, being a major contributing factor, but also stigma, personal bad history with other organizations, etc). This is why programs that just serve meals exist (and I don’t mean mobile soup kitchens, because there is an abundance of organizations across the nation that just provide meals); no one is going after them and saying that since they’re not providing “complete” services, they are doing the homeless a disservice.

    And I’d like to note that while A may not be an expert of the highest degree, she does work as a “Homelessness Prevention Advocate” on a daily basis and knows what she’s talking about. Not that anyone has to agree with her for that reason, but that it is worth listening to what she has to say since she’s working with a similar population on a daily basis.

  12. The phrasing of the law is shown in my comments on the other post, so that discussion is moot.

    Oh come now… the comments you’re reading are people’s snap decision based on the article about the law. I doubt many of authors of the comments you mention actually read anything about this beyond the abstract for the article. Please don’t tell me those people represent any sort of wortwhile majority. The comments I mention come from informed people who actually have knowledge of the situation in Vegas (where the radio show was hosted) and/or involvement with homeless organizations in other states. The show host himself had the same reaction as those you mention, but his mind was changed completely after hearing actual experts talk about the issue.

    The ordinance need not site actual instances of problems. You don’t list the reasons why fireworks are banned in a park in the law banning them. That information is probably listed in the minutes of the council meetings dicussing the issue. Look them up instead of complaining that they haven’t been presented to you.

    And I’ll re-iterate that my references of opinions came from police officers or workers in homeless organizations. The fact that their opinions different from A’s makes them no less credible.

  13. The “comments” I was reading were mostly in news articles published by the Associated Press, as news articles not opinion pieces.

    You did mention that the radio show you were listening to had informed panelists. And you’re right, their opinions are no less credible than A’s. No more, either.

    I didn’t say the ordinance needed to site actual instances of problems. I said it needed to cite the specific problem, not get all general. But, as earlier noted, since the wording that was approved is different from what has been reported, this also is a moot point.

    Before getting snotty about it, please remember that I looked multiple times for information on both the exact text of the ordinance and people’s opinions about it. Don’t say I didn’t try or that I’m complaining. That’s not fair.

    And if we’re going to get b*tchy about it, I want to re-iterate that you still have failed to acknowledge that the “other side” has any valid points. This makes me feel as though you’re not actually listening to what I’m saying. There are valid points on both sides of the argument, and I’m feeling broadsided by the way you are presenting your points.

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