The United States has 400 billionaires. That’s right 400! Millionaires are not even counted; it would be difficult to determine such a large number. It is estimated that on any one night there are 600,000 homeless people in our nation. 200,000 of those are children; an all-time high. One-third of all homeless are families. As the saying goes, ‘there’s something wrong with this picture.’ But it gets worse; many states have laws virtually prohibiting homeless persons to ‘loiter’ on streets or public property. They lack empathy and actually persecute individuals for being homeless.
The number of laws targeting the homeless have been on the rise. Not only are the homeless forbidden to eat, stand or sit in public places, 21 states have adopted laws making it illegal to exchange food in public areas. This means that faith-based charitable organizations and others cannot give food to homeless people who are forced to seek food and shelter in public. Advocacy groups for the homeless and those in abject poverty call these laws ‘racist and classist.’ They use the example of Times Square in New York City. If the laws were enforced equally, everyone who sits on a brick wall and eats a hot dog would be cited or arrested.
One group among several others, the ‘Western Regional Advocacy Project,’ is drafting a ‘Homeless Bill of Rights.’ If adopted by a state, it would decriminalize homeless persons. It will be introduced to state legislatures in California, Oregon and Colorado in January.
Advocates for the homeless are numerous. They remind Americans who are more fortunate just how difficult life can be for the impoverished and homeless. The majority of our people fail to consider even the smallest need which is not available to them; going to the bathroom. Business establishments will not allow the homeless to use their facilities; therefore performing necessary bodily functions must often be accomplished in public places. If law enforcement witnesses such actions, the individual faces arrest or at the very least removal from the area.
There are many homeless shelters in the United States. Their intentions are good, but they create an abnormal lifestyle for most of them. Couples are allowed only in family shelters; and they must prove that they are married. There are far fewer family shelters at present. There are individual shelters for men and women who are unmarried. Even these shelters are unacceptable to some. For example; if a homeless man or woman has a dog, their companion is not allowed in the shelter.
The battles for the rights of the homeless are fought day by day. One group, ‘The National Law Center,’ battled with the city of Dallas, Texas for six months before succeeding. The issue was to allow religious groups to provide food for the homeless.
St. Petersburg has an ordinance prohibiting a homeless person from sitting on public sidewalks; arrests were frequent. The Law Center intervened and now there is an appeals process which has resulted in the cessation most of the arrests; the center continues to monitor the situation.
Homelessness is not a choice. Thanks to Wall Street and the banking industry, the numbers of homeless individuals and families rose greatly because of foreclosures and job loss beginning in 2008. (Not a single banker became homeless).
By James Turnage