Awareness has been increasing with regard to the impact of the “homeless” community in our county. When public areas decay into eyesores, and community facilities are no longer deemed safe and usable by the citizens who contribute to them, it is time to review the way our communities address this challenge.
I put homeless in quote marks because society has generally lumped many groups of people under the “homeless” banner: people with substance abuse issues, people with mental health issues, panhandlers, criminals/felons, vagabonds and some who are truly temporarily down on their luck. By grouping them together and applying a one-size-fits-all solution, we start our quest to assist them on the wrong foot.
The homeless attract a wide range of responses, ranging from fear and disgust to concern and compassion. We see them as we rush around town; guarding their shopping cart on a sidewalk, milling around in the parking lot of popular businesses or curling up behind a dense bush on a public right of way. Most people I talk with take a live-and-let-live approach to their presence; as long as they are not committing crimes of violence or threat of violence, property loss or fraud, let them be.
They can congregate on private property if the property owner is OK with it. If a business allows homeless people to congregate on their property, and you don’t like it, communicate that to the business owner. “I’d patronize your business but there are too many questionable people loitering around, which concerns me, thus I will not be supporting your business.“ This feedback will allow the property or business owner to gauge whether or not the issue is a concern held by a noticeable portion of the population, or a just a few squeaky wheels.
Meanwhile, on public property, there is nothing fundamentally illegal about “hanging out,” even if some may not care for a person’s appearance or pungency. However, if hanging out devolves into littering, defecating, public displays of illegal behavior, vandalism and threats of violence, then we the people have the right and obligation to take action to protect people and property.
We as a community should reflect on why we have such a noticeable homeless population here. Are they Solano County natives who have been left behind, or are they migrants from other counties and other states? My neighborhood, like so many others, has its share of stray cats. People like to help them out, and leave some food and water out for them; this is a reflection of our compassionate humanity. Anyone who has dealt with stray cats can attest: rarely do they move on after they’ve been fed; as long as there is food, they will hang out, and other cats will show up.
Does Solano County attract more homeless since we have a reputation for being generous and have nice weather? Private groups using privately sourced resources are welcome to help the cause; we in the community should applaud their effort and initiative. However, when a person or group is subsidized with public funds, the bar is raised. Our government has transferred community resources to select organizations with the assumption that the group or individual can address the issue more efficiently than a government organization.
An often unstated goal is that we the people would like the issue solved, not just addressed. If our resources are being spent to solve the homeless issue, where is the assurance that we truly helping the sons and daughters of Solano County?
We are now faced with a causality dilemma: Do we have abundant services because there is a large homeless community, or do we have a large homeless community because there are abundant services? When balancing the needs of human rights, dignity and liberty with the health and vitality of our community, we must walk the fine line between compassion and vigilance. In the campaign to help the less fortunate, we must measure the success of our efforts by results, not by intentions.
Brian Thiemer is chairman of the Solano County Libertarian Party. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.