Homeless encampments are a goad, a stick in the eye, a disquieting reminder that misery and chaos are only a few quick steps from the land of comfort and safety. It would be nice if the sight always opened our hearts and made us weep, but sometimes it goes the other way, grinds hard on our patience, awakens our fear.
Here's the thing, though. The homeless problem is not hopeless. We're actually figuring it out on a national scale, if not so much locally. Things are getting better nationally, but all of the things that actually work require compassion and patience. Nothing gets better on a short fuse.
At the end of this, I even have a secret about it to share with you, but you have to read every word, or I won't tell.
Some members of the Dallas City Council beat up a little on Dallas Police Chief Chief U. Renee Hall this week when they learned she had sent out a new training memo on avoiding violations of the civil rights of homeless people. Council member Sandy Greyson told her, "We have ordinances that say we can enforce, but you say that we really can't enforce."
Hall called a press conference immediately afterward to say she's not going to stop enforcing the law; she's just trying to avoid getting the city sued. She explained she wants to focus enforcement on behaviors that are not protected by the Bill of Rights.
"If they're aggressive, if they're threatening, if they're disorderly, if they're criminally trespassing — those are the things we're going to enforce around panhandling," she said.
Mainly, we can't just make the homeless disappear, but we can make their encampments disappear, at least temporarily. U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt in Houston recently rejected arguments by the American Civil Liberties Union that bulldozing tent encampments amounted to criminalizing homelessness. Hoyt ruled instead that a city's power to promote the health and safety of its citizens trumps the right of the homeless to squat on public land.
So we can knock down their camps. Then what? After their tents are torn down and all their worldly possessions taken to the landfill, the homeless people don't simply blow away like smoke. In a long, intense screed written to rebut recent criticisms of her organization, Cindy Crain, CEO of the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance, explained how it works.
Read the original article at www.dallasobserver.com.