So by now, you’ve probably heard about this ridiculous law in Las Vegas passed by the city council that makes it illegal (yes, $1,000 fine and up to 6 months in jail) for feeding homeless people in the park. The whole thing started when homeowners and residents around the park complained that they can’t even use the park facilities because of the large number of homeless people that congregate and sleep there. Exacerbating the problem (apparently) are mobile soup kitchens that come by the park to feed the homeless people. The residents felt that by bringing food to the homeless population at the park, it discourages them from going to a shelter to receive food and encourages them to stay at the park.
Now… all this makes sense to me. My sister used to work in West Hollywood and on the block where her company was, a mobile needle cart would come by and distribute clean needles to the heroin addicts. She said she pretty much had to step over junkees every time she wanted to walk to her car. And the businesses in the area didn’t appreciate it. I don’t blame them. Of course, these people who aren’t particularly mobile, or have anything better to do, are going to hang around and wait for their free food and free needles. And on some level, I understand that distributing free needles and food does help to minimize the spread of HIV and in some ways “contain” the problem of homeless drug use.
And I also believe that we have a responsibility to help our own people as much as we can. But I don’t think that encouraging them to 1. continue to use drugs, and 2. break the law (drug use is still illegal here), is really helping anyone. And I certainly don’t think that imposing this problem on local residents and businesses who have a vested interest in keeping their neighborhoods clean and safe is the right way to go about this. Aaahhh, you say, but homelessness and the drug epidemic is everyone’s problem. And I don’t disagree… to an extent.
Homelessness, at times, cannot be helped. Most Americans are two paychecks away from being homeless, and with 70%+ of US citizens having an average credit debt of almost $10,000, I’m guessing that one major setback (like a house fire, your company folding, your health going bad, or losing your health insurance before being diagnosed with a major illness) could probably do it. But there are programs in place to help these people. There are shelters, and job assistance programs, and relocation programs. All funded by our tax dollars and all free. I’ve never been in the situation myself, so I know I can’t speak from experience, but from my understanding, there are agencies that coordinate all of these different charities and if you are homeless and want help to get out of your situation, there is help available. So that’s one thing.
Drugs… now that’s something else. No one forces anyone to become a drug addict. No experience out of someone’s control had a hand in creating that situation. There is one fact that applies to every single drug addict. At one time, they CHOSE to take drugs. So I’m a little less sympathetic. Yeah, I’m sure being a meth addict sucks… but no one made you that way excpet yourself. And if you’re going to engage in that behavior, and share dirty needles, you’re making a choice there as well. And the consequences of that choice are that you are risking getting AIDS. There are rehab centers available at no cost as well. And entering one, and then staying off drugs, is also a choice where as coming up with a couple grand every month to pay your rent, and deposits on all your utilities, and finding someone who will rent to you without steady income and credit, is obviously a little more difficult. For a homeless person to suddenly say “I now want a home” isn’t as easy to accomplish as it is for a junkee to suddenly say, “I want to quit drugs.” And unfortunately, one tends to lead to the other and vice versa, compounding the problem.
But constitutionally, should it be a LAW that we can’t give food to other people??? Although I understand why it’s creating problems, the concept has a ring of Nazism to it. Do we really want the government telling us who we can and can’t give food to? Instead of creating new laws to punish people, why not just enforce the old laws on the people who are actually committing crimes. Isn’t loitering a crime? Isn’t drug use a crime? Why doesn’t the LVPD just arrest the people who are loitering and using drugs instead of the people who might give someone food? Seems to me it’s easier to enforce these anti-food laws than it is to deal with the homeless problem… of course it is… give a law-abiding citizen a ticket for providing food and they’ll stop to avoid the ticket/fine/jail time. Round up a homeless person and take them out of the park, they’ll go back the next day because they have nowhere else to go.
I believe by letting the government create these types of laws, we are (as we often do in this country when we might actually have to put thought into solving a tough problem) giving the government more power than it should have, and limiting our own freedoms and choices. My feeling is that this law won’t make it past the state supreme court. But we’ll see…