Humanizing the Homeless

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The irrational fear of homeless people, hobophobia, is the root of counterproductive methods to deal with the national homeless problem.

As the cartoon suggests, campers temporarily become homeless for a short time, and enjoy it!  Come to think of it, homelessness is just an extended camping trip.

Some people sleep in tents and some in campers, just as homeless people sleep in their cars and in tents in the woods.  The difference is the homeless do this out of necessity, and it’s long term.  Many things become tedious after you do it too long, and homelessness is no exception.

Unlike the willing campers, the homeless are often harassed by authorities and looked down on by people outside their circle.  The right to use public places, such as benches in a park during normal hours, is treated like a crime.

Such a case exists at the Veterans Memorial outside the public library in Levittown, PA.  A security guard who works for Bucks County PA, who is stationed at the nearby municipal building, periodically goes to the memorial and, even though the homeless are not breaking any rules, he tries to get them to leave, reaching in his bag of tricks to find ways to clear the homeless from the memorial, which, by the way, stands for freedom for all Americans.

As some homeless people have remarked,  it seems to be a crime to be homeless.

Nuisance ordinances, often too broad and arbitrarily enforced, are fueled by the false perceptions people have about the homeless.

In an online publication of NYU’s Review of Law and Social Change, Joanna Laine wrote that legal and social discrimination against the homeless that treats them like criminals can be combated by “both innovative legal advocacy and the correction of misconceptions about homeless people.”

From Criminalization to Humanization: Ending Discrimination Against the Homeless

Advocates have had some success challenging anti-homeless ordinances.  For example, an ordinance banning sleeping in vehicles in Los Angeles California was shot down on constitutional grounds.  The court held that the ordinance was “unconstitutionally vague on its face because it provides insufficient notice of the conduct it penalizes and promotes arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement.”

This ruling could be applied to the situation at the Veterans Memorial in Levittown, PA.  Here, there is no notice of conduct it penalizes about sitting for a period of time on the benches at the memorial.  The guard arbitrarily tells the homeless who hang out there that they have a fifteen minute limit.  I believe he is egged on by people who just don’t like the homeless there.  He once told them that some people feel uncomfortable coming to the memorial with them there.  He doesn’t give other people this limit.  On more than one occasion, the guard told homeless people they need to stay away from the memorial because the Bucks County Commissioners are coming, and they don’t want to see stuff all over the place.

On one occasion when the guard warned the commissioners are coming, the commissioners are coming, I quoted “When the government fears the people, this is liberty.  When the people fear the government, this is tyranny.”

There is a double standard in the nearby Levittown library as well.  The homeless are told they have to keep the noise down when they speak a few sentences barely above a whisper; people bring kids into the library who scream whine, and carry on, and this is tolerated.  Just yesterday, the head librarian passed by an area in the library where people were on the computers and reading while a child was screeching very loudly.  Both on the way past and on the way back, the kid was screaming, yet she just ignored it.

In Bucks County, like the rest of the country, we need to correct misconceptions about homeless people.  This is one thing I’ve been doing.

I was greatly dismayed when an organization that claims to help the homeless, Advocates for the Homeless and Those in Need (AHTN) promoted a video filmed in part at the Veteran’s Memorial that, instead of correcting misconceptions, stereotypes about the homeless, it actually fostered the irrational view people have of them.  Holy, et tu Brute?, Batman!,_Brute%3F

Instead of trying to push the homeless away by harassing them, it would be more productive to work with them.  In a library in California which many homeless frequent, the homeless help with landscaping.  Communities could also help the homeless with their fundamental problem by providing shelter on vacant property, even putting the homeless to work on the project.

In Bucks County, PA, Gimmee Shelter for the Homeless is trying to raise funds to acquire such lands and put the homeless to work on their own shelter, modeled after the Homestead Act of 1862.