Paul Jacob

The homeless can be classed as those who've (a) given up on making rational trade-offs, (b) have (through either chance or incompetence) failed to make good trade-offs, or (c) have suffered a sling or arrow or two of outrageous fortune. However they get there, they are left with a lot of free time . . . but diminishing options. And like someone stuck with a mortgage and a dead-end job, one can feel trapped, be trapped.

It's sad, like so much human tragedy.

The way out? Hard to navigate, hard to endure.

That's why the homeless often (though not always) need (or could use) assistance.

But many simply want to stay where they are. The trap becomes gilded. The freedom from responsibility? Palpable, making it difficult for some to give up.

What to do?

Well, a lot of hard-working people would like to help those homeless who haven't given up, or could be sparked to try again. But, understandably, most of us have little interest in helping those who wish to stay homeless.

You make your park bench, you lie on it.

Which brings us back to Orlando. The homeless did not literally make the park benches there. They appropriate park benches made for uses that didn't include six-hour snoozes to sleep off zigzags.

There used to be laws against vagrancy. And there still are, in some form or another. Mr. Montanez got arrested for violating an Orlando ordinance stipulating that one may not feed more than 25 people in a public park. One can see the logic to it. And, alas, the logic to arresting Mr. Montanez.

Granted, it seems a bit much to arrest the man. Had the officer called to the scene been Sheriff Andy Taylor of Mayberry, or someone with similar people skills, the whole problem might have been patched up short of legal entanglement. But often, folks like Montanez almost insist on being arrested.

Where should the homeless be fed? In homeless shelters. Churches. Rented facilities.

That is, they should be fed on private property.

That's the only way to bring the homeless back into civilization. They need to see how private property can work for them.

So, this Easter weekend, I encourage all who would give to the poor to discriminate. Do not give to the poor without concern for the manner in which the poor are to be helped. Give to the poor so that the manner of giving and acceptance encourages better behavior.

In point of fact, such institutions exist in most cities now. One reporter in one news story had the sense to ask a homeless person the right question:

"If you don't get food at the park that Wednesday, you could have gotten it someplace else?" reporter Josh Wilson asked Jacques Davis.
"Yes, I could have gotten it at the Daily Bread or the Salvation Army," Davis said.

Feeding the homeless in parks may seem humane. But really, can it do any real good? Not long-term. Those charitable groups that establish soup kitchens and flop houses and all the rest do more good than those that set up, in the minds of the homeless, the idea that anything goes, that "public property" is theirs to squat on.

We could wish reality were otherwise, I suppose. Perhaps anthropological reading about hunters and gatherers could make the homeless life sound glamorous. Perhaps careless reading of the Gospels can make indiscriminate giving seem wise. Perhaps two hundred years of socialist thought can inspire. But none of this should inspire us to give up certain obvious truths.

Now that I think about it, I wonder about Food Not Bombs. The lefty moniker gives it all away, doesn't it? Are you at all surprised that Food Not Bombs has sued the city of Orlando? The group charges that the ordinance is unconstitutional, of all things.

Can we hazard an early verdict? This is just another leftist attempt to make the public realm one huge feeding trough.

That's no way to help the homeless. It's a way to use the homeless as political props.

Our civilization can do better. And, regularly, does.


Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.