May 14, 2002
The poor will always be with us

Larry wants to know what I think about this story about a proposed City Council ordinance to prohibit "Dumpster diving", "aggressive panhandling", and sleeping on city sidewalks during daytime hours.

I wish I had a good answer to this. My read of the Chron story says this is not simply an attempt to try to force homeless people to go elsewhere, but I'm not sure what it really is all about. The main qualm I have with this kind of ordinance is what do you do with the offenders? According to the article, police "must first warn offenders and inform them about where they can get help". Well, what happens when the offenders don't want to get help, or are too disoriented to understand what's being asked of them? Do we lock them up? That'll get them off the streets. Not for long, of course, and it won't do anything to prevent them from reoffending - who knows, maybe city lockup is preferable to a homeless shelter to some of these guys - so it's hard to see how this will have any long-term effect.

You may think that they short-term effect of putting bums in the drunk tank for a day or two is enough to make this law worthwhile, but is that more efficient than getting them into a shelter? Do we have any idea how much extra this is going to cost us in police power, jail space, and court time? I'm not saying this can't be worth the effort, just that we ought to have some idea of the impact before we codify it.

I'd like to hear more before I decide what I think. It has the feel to me of asking street cops to act like social services agents. I think if we want someone to perform that function, we ought to have people whose job it is to do that function out there doing it. However, that's just a first impression. I'm not quite ready to call it what I really think just yet.

Rob at Get Donkey! has some good thoughts on this. I like what he says about the motivation behind the law. Go check it out.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on May 14, 2002 to Elsewhere in Houston