I wrote very good, well-thought-out and well-researched papers all throughout school. Of course, a carefully-planned outline helped a great deal. Kinda wish I’d had one for this post – it’s very random, and for that I apologize. I hope you can gleam something from it regardless.
Continuing from last week’s post (what some would call a rant) on the city ordinance in Las Vegas regarding feeding the homeless….
[Editor’s note: before I continue, let me again remind you that I have already said I would have a different view on this than most people, and I fully expect many people to disagree with what I’ve said or my viewpoint. Go right ahead. Please re-read my explanation of the potential motivators for my view and try to understand where I’m coming from. I will try to not be judgmental towards you and how you may have come to your point of view, and I expect the same in return. Hopefully, in this second post, I have successfully attempted to be less-emotional and more logical, and would appreciate a discussion of viewpoints, not an argument about who’s right or wrong. I will try to keep the name-calling to a minimum, which I didn’t do well in my last post. I would also like to remind you that I have very few political opinions in general, but when I do have one that I feel is worth sharing, I tend to have good reason for doing so and am very unlikely to change my mind. Which is why I don’t talk about politics here much – I don’t usually have much to say that I can defend or even explain, or feel strongly about. This time, I do. So, I hope you feel welcome and encouraged to leave comments that are in the spirit of friendly discourse – as you can see from previous posts, comments that differ from my point of view will still be published, you will not be censored (unless you say something truly offensive or try to direct everyone to your website where we will all make big buck$), and I will attempt to moderate a mature discussion amongst vaguely like-minded individuals. And by like-minded, I mean middle-class, employed, probably not homeless, persons, though all are welcome here; I’m just assuming that the majority of my readership fits into that category.]
Well, I still can’t find the full text of the law, but here’s what I have found for exact wording:
The ordinance bans “the providing of food or meals to the indigent for free or for a nominal fee.”Furthermore, “an indigent person is a person whom a reasonable ordinary person would believe to be entitled to apply for or receive” public assistance.
The city attorney says this is not “selective enforcement” (which would violate the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment by “requiring people to make a snap judgment about others based on how they look,” but discernment. Now that’s just semantics.
The city just spent $1.7 million in landscaping and other improvements in the park (the parks and recreation committee meeting minutes also note new projects with price tags in the millions in the works), and yet says they want a long-term solution (this is part of a “regional initiative to end homelessness in 10 years,” which is a rather admirable goal, though I can’t exactly find evidence of said regional initiative) rather than stopgap measures in a city with limited resources for those living on the streets. Did they just admit they don’t actually have the resources they need to help the homeless? Because they keep saying they don’t like the mobile soup kitchens because they take people away from the structured organizations that offer other services as well, such as mental health counseling, job search help, etc, and that those organizations have plenty of resources for the homeless (though not all of the organizations being referred to agree with this statement). So do they have the resources or not? Also, the city keeps saying they “support” efforts to end homelessness, but so far the only “support” I have found them giving has been legal, and no [additional] monetary support has been given to the organizations that they’re counting on “fixing” this problem. And no, government money doesn’t fix all problems nor should it be counted on to do so, but you gotta put something where your mouth is, and I don’t really see the city council showing up to serve meals at the soup kitchen, and your options are action or money, or your words are empty.
Also, their mayor just offends me in general (he has been called a lot worse things by others, however, and I’ll just let you search the web for that yourself). “At a June meeting of the city council, [they mayor] suggested pan handlers with signs asking for food be sued for ‘false advertising’ because soup kitchens provide free meals.” He has also said, “I take offense with those who choose that [homeless] lifestyle,” and “I don’t want to see that on my drive home,” referring to a woman with a sign begging for food. (Seems the mayor has forgotten that “we hold these truths self-evident; that all men are created equal,” and that his comfort isn’t actually more important than whether or not someone has food for dinner.)
Yes, I don’t want to see that either, because it makes me feel like I should be doing more for those less fortunate than I. It reminds me that I haven’t volunteered at a soup kitchen or shelter for quite some time, or given my money to an organization that would help (other than for the little girl in Columbia that I support), or really done anything about the “problem” other than feel bad about it. (Furthermore, I hate that particular use of the word “that.” It goes along with “those” when referring to “those people,” and similar sentiments. It sets up an us-vs-them scenario, in which almost always “us” is better than “them.” I originally found the use of these terms abhorrible when I worked in San Francisco and heard small-minded people use it at the beginning of their week of ministry before they fully understood the city and homelessness and poverty; people almost never spoke this way by the end of the week, and for good reason. But I digress.) So in this sense, I am just as bad as the mayor and city council, because I have seen the problem and I haven’t done anything about it. I’ll admit that. I won’t even offer up any excuses (though my mind started reeling with the possibilities), but just say that I can definitely do better in this area.
But going back to the mayor, from the city of Las Vegas’ website, he is, self-proposed, the “happiest mayor in the world.” Really? He doesn’t sound very happy to me. He sounds like a mean, bitter man who has a grudge with anyone who makes him feel like his city is less than the greatest in the world. He sounds like if you’re less-fortunate than he is, step out of his way, and don’t do anything potentially offensive, because he might just pass a law and fine you for that. And yet, he and his wife moved to Las Vegas with just $87 in their pockets, and called it the land of opportunity (see the website for context). I don’t know what he and his wife did for their first week in Vegas with only $87, or how they changed their situation. Did they sleep in their car (more info about stay in Las Vegas)? Did they get lucky in the casinos? Did they stay with friends? Whatever they did, they were in a situation not unlike many homeless people (many people move to Vegas with nothing but a backpack and a dream, which is, I think, how there end up being so many strippers, but that’s another story). And somehow, they managed to rise above their circumstances, so to speak. (I must note, however, that he was a lawyer before moving to Vegas, and so probably had a lot more resources at his disposal than the average homeless person, even if he only had $87 in cash.) So you would think that he’d be empathetic to the plight of the homeless. Instead, he seems to be waging war against them, offended by their very existence. The city claims to want to end homelessness, but is not doing so in any way that is compassionate or forward-thinking. These are not efforts of love. (And no, not all government acts can or should be classified as “loving.” But I will refer you to the Preamble to the US Constitution, that sets out our goal to be “a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”)
I will agree that people urinating in the parks, public drunkenness, anything dealing with feces, and breaking into cars, to name a few, are more than a nuisance, and if I lived near such a park, I would want something to change too. San Francisco managed to curb some of these problems – there are public toilets everywhere. Problem solved. Now, how hard was that? Public drunkenness, well, that’s just a Vegas problem in general, and as one article stated, how are you going to enforce that in the public parks and not on the Strip? But sure, I get behind getting rid of public drunkenness (having had an undesirable experience with that a time or two myself) in beneficial means, especially if it involves detox. And breaking into cars is also unacceptable and should be stopped or prevented when possible. What I don’t understand is that the police officers have been booting people out of the parks before dawn or after dusk (when it’s closed), and I would guess that they would continue to patrol the parks after dark, and so wouldn’t a police presence like that stop some of those problems? You might see a lot of police cars in my neighborhood, but you sure don’t see a lot of crime. Presence is a powerful thing.
I was reading the blog of a homeless man (or who had been homeless once… I didn’t get the full story), and he said it was a common misconception that the homeless go to the parks because people feed them there. He said that people go to the parks to feed the homeless because that’s where the homeless are (which, in my personal experience, is the case, and I have plenty of personal experience in this area). Public parks are one of the few places the homeless can go without being harassed. I agree that disturbing the peace, breaking the law, making the park feel unsafe, these are community issues that need to be addressed and even prosecuted if necessary. I totally support the fact that the police fined the one lady (before this ordinance was passed) because her food distribution gathered more than 25 people – there are reasons why laws like that exist, why you need permits for large gatherings, why food inspectors regulate even soup kitchens.
But I still think this law is bogus.
I think the concerns of the citizens of Las Vegas are valid, and they have a right to speak up and request that their representatives do something. And their rights are equal to that of the homeless in the park. There has to be a more… compassionate, a more equitable, a more just solution than fining people for handing out food. It seems to me as though this law was hastily put together and not thought through well.
Did you know that most shelters are closed during the day? Yes, there are some that provide lunch, but not many. And often, the ones that are open require you to be part of a religious program that you may or may not want to participate in. That’s the organizations’ right to require, and your right to not participate, but it does depend on the idea that there are other places you can go. The Salvation Army in San Francisco ran a shelter in the building we were in. It cost $7 a night (or something like that), but you had to be in by a certain time (I think 10pm) and were out the door by 7 am. They had those folks on lockdown. I’ve never said the Salvation Army doesn’t run a tight ship – they do, and they’re stricter than I have ever been (so if you think I’m strict or unbending or unfun, don’t even bother with them).
Did you know that Vegas requires you to have a work permit for 28 different occupations? Did you know this work permit costs $75? Several people on the web have referred to this work permit as being necessary to get a job at all. That severely affects how you’re going to “rise above your circumstances,” “by your bootstraps,” and become un-homeless.
I had mentioned that several people have been arrested since this ordinance was enacted, and someone said that it was absolutely just that this happen, because these people were willingly and knowingly breaking the law. And at the time I agreed. But then I got to thinking about civil disobedience, and how that’s all these people were trying to do – get their point across in a non-violent way. And they all knew they’d probably be arrested or fined or whatever, and that was their choice. And so I’m still OK with all that. The words of Martin Luther King Jr ring in my head (now, he’s talking about radial injustice, but apply the ideas in a broader fashion please):
“Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. …as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny (emphasis mine). And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom (emphasis mine). We cannot walk alone.”
“We cannot walk alone.” Those are powerful words.
And if you’re needing some inspiration today, go read the full text of the “I Have A Dream” speech. Every time I read it I feel compelled to do something, to be part of something bigger than myself, to make a change in my world for the better.