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Sarasota Thursday, Mar. 15, 2012 5 years ago

My View: Pro-homeless lobby a problem

by: Rod Thomson

The homeless are back in the news in downtown Sarasota.

And that’s never good.

But this is becoming more about the so-called “advocates” of the homeless and their rights as it is about the homeless and truly helping them out of homelessness.

I just can’t help but wonder if any of these groups would be so hot on this issue if they did not garner such a huge amount of publicity.

The latest pro-homeless group to register its outrage and treat the city to threats for considering the needs of hard-working residents over piddle places for the homeless is the American Civil Liberties Union.

Apparently, the Sarasota Police Department has begun issuing trespass warnings to people who are hanging out in front of businesses around the Five Points area, along First Street and Central and Lemon avenues. The police act on complaints from business owners.

It’s pretty understandable. Consider if you are operating a restaurant with outdoor seating and homeless people settle down next to your customers’ tables, plopping down whatever belongings they have with them, raising a disturbing cloud of body odor. They will drive away customers. It happens, and merchants working hard to make a living during season have had enough.

For past attempts to get the homeless out of downtown, the city was named the “meanest city” in America by some publicity-hunting goofball homeless organization in D.C. The city has since vanished from the list, but others, including Bradenton, have popped up.

The ACLU claims that some of the sidewalks are publicly owned, and therefore the homeless have a constitutionally protected freedom of speech right to plop down in front of merchants and sleep, reek, urinate, panhandle, etc. Freedom of speech! Yeah, pretty sure that’s what Thomas Jefferson had in mind. The ACLU would be comical if it were not so well funded.

Of course, it makes the front page of the newspaper because it fits the formula. But the plight of merchants — who have gone under during the recession like Jimmy Hoffa in the Detroit River — is not the story. It’s the homeless’ right to offend everyone in their vicinity.

City Attorney Bob Fournier is looking into the public-private status of the sidewalks. But clarifications by Fournier do not get to the root. That is a simple legality.

Groups such as the ACLU and too many “homeless advocates” — who appear indeed to advocate keeping people homeless — offer no solutions to the underlying problems with homelessness.

It’s not like there are no places for the homeless. There are. The Salvation Army is a great one. But it comes with strings — no drunkenness, no drug use and responsible efforts to find work. That won’t do for too many homeless, and with their protectorate of “advocates,” it does not have to.

Homelessness falls into two broad camps: People with mental and emotional conditions who are generally unable to function in our society; and people with drug/alcohol/work ethic problems who will not seek help and stay helped. A smaller group are those who have truly fallen on a stretch of bad luck, but those are usually in shelters or with friends or family — not panhandling, sleeping and urinating on downtown streets.

People who are not able to function in society should be placed in facilities to help care for them. It is no act of love to leave a mentally dysfunctional adult to the streets and call it free speech. In fact, it is an act of rotteness.

And the rest of the homeless need a big dose of tough love, which would mean tougher laws and requirements placed on them. And that, we know, would raise the ire of the “advocates” whose actions help maintain homeless peoples’ status as homeless.

Rod Thomson can be reached at [email protected]" target="_blank">[email protected].

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