Who’ll take the promise that you don’t have to keep?

Israel Malachi

Well, well. Here for another guest appearance is the City of Duluth’s “Homeless Person’s Bill of Rights.”

This clunker of an ordinance reappears from time to time, usually when bleeding-heart politicians are thinking about the next election they face. It is such a hollow promise to the disenfranchised people of the community, it is stunning. Basically, the “Bill of Rights” guarantees the rights set out, as follows:

• The right to use and move freely in public spaces, without discrimination or arbitrary time limits

• The right to rest in public spaces and protect oneself from elements in a non-obstructive manner

• The right to eat, share or accept food in public spaces

• The right to occupy a legally parked motor vehicle

• The right to a reasonable expectation of privacy in public spaces

• The right to equal treatment by city staff and departments

• The right to protection from disclosure of personal information without consent

• The right to protection from discrimination in housing and employment

• The right to 24-hour access to basic hygiene facilities

• The right to choose whether or not to utilize emergency shelter

• The right to speak with an advocate or street outreach worker when questioned by police.

Most of these rights are already promised to you in the U.S. Constitution and it’s amendments. The sticking points are going to be found in the “...right to 24-hour access to basic hygiene facilities”, the “...right to eat, share or accept food in public places”, the “...right to rest in public spaces and protect oneself from elements in a non-obstructive manner”, and the “...right to use and move freely in public spaces, without discrimination or arbitrary time limits.” A reasonable interpretation of these rights would lead one to assume that they could set up shop in any public area, build a building, start cooking and “sharing” food with anyone, presumably in exchange for money or other valuable currency, for as long as they want, with no time limits, and somehow, they must be provided with 24-hour access to “basic hygiene facilities.” What does that mean? Is the city obligated to build public, 24-hour bathrooms, complete with bathing equipment, available free? Are they supposed to be unisex, or do we have to build Mens, Women’s and Transgender facilities as well?

I think this is just what it appears to be. Hollow promises. The City Council is also looking into ways that they can entice developers to build more housing units for low-income people. How do they suppose to do that without monetary incentives, paid for by taxpayers? We already have a system to spur housing development, it’s called “supply and demand.”

If the Council was serious about helping the homeless exist without harassment, they would have set aside a plot of city-owned land, fenced it off, and declared it a “free zone” where people are free to set up camp, build fires to keep warm and cook, and basically live, free from police intervention. Is that so unreasonable? I mean, we have dog parks in this city, why not people parks? Are people less important than dogs? 

I still don’t see how the city is going to provide public bathrooms without building them. You can’t compel a private business, such as a gas station or 24-hour restaurant to open their facilities to non-customers. Perhaps some of the loudest, most self-righteous voices in favor of this “Bill of Rights” should consider putting their money where their mouths are, and open their homes to the homeless. Surely they have an extra room or hallway they could share with the less-fortunate. No? 

And what of the homeless? What is expected of them? If the taxpayers pay for facilities and more likely, free apartments, free handouts, what do we get in return? Are we going to see a reduction in drug use, panhandling, petty crime and all of the ugly elements of street life that seem to thrive among the homeless community? Why are there so many homeless at a time in our history when there are worker shortages in Duluth and the Twin Cities? Why can’t the dots be connected?

These are rhetorical questions because I have heard the stock answers from our leaders many times. “They have mental illness problems that keep them homeless.” “They aren’t skilled enough to get a job.” “They are addicted to drugs.” All excuses, when the core problem is that they are so used to handouts that they have forgotten how to provide for themselves and their families. 

If you are mentally ill, you need treatment, if it is severe, you need to be in an institution. If you lack skills, you need to start with a job you can handle, (everybody can do something) and work your way up into a better job as you acquire more skills. You may never be a CEO, but you may be able to start as a dishwasher and work your way up to cook, or even manager. If you are addicted to drugs, you need drug treatment. You don’t need to be sent to a boutique treatment center, you might just need an extended stay at detox, and a support group such as AA or NA to help you stay clean. It can be done. It has been done.

Living your life off of charity is harmful to you spiritually. Anyone can find themselves in need of a hand at one point or another, there is no shame in that, but when you make it your life, you rob yourself of the greatest gift God gave man: dignity. There is nothing more satisfying than the feeling that you have contributed to the well-being of others. If the city wanted to help alleviate the problem of homelessness and poverty, maybe they should not be so heavy-handed with those who are most vulnerable to falling into the cycle: the working poor. If you drive through some of the marginal neighborhoods in Duluth, you will see the alleys peppered with automobiles that have bright green stickers on them, indicating that they are in violation of some ordinance, and will soon be towed away. There are notices on houses, indicating that they, too, are in violation, and must be torn down or evacuated. If the city fathers really wanted to help, they would come up with a way to leave the poor alone. Of course, it is much easier to talk about how much you care, while doing nothing, than to actually take the initiative and do something that solves the problem.