Being homeless is not a crime. But it is criminalized all the time, and our culture makes it evermore a matter of suspicion.
Someday, take a bus from your home and ride it anywhere in the city that’s at least three miles away. Get off and start walking around. And look. Look all around for a place to be.
Even the places that provide services, everything from hospitals, soup kitchens, clothing closets, and churches (churches often host these services) have set hours when you can be there AND WHEN YOU CAN’T. Thus even there, the sign says, “No Trespassing” or “No Loitering”.
Panhandling in and of itself is not illegal (not in this town), but even the slightest wrong move when doing it is and can get you in trouble. Some towns pass ordinances against lying down or sitting – and then take away the park bench or the bus stop bench – and thus they target the homeless. I have seen gazebos disappearing from parks in Lubbock where homeless are known to gather. I recall visiting Malibu California many years ago and my friends explained to me they had an ordinance against laundr-o-mat services because they attract the poor; so instead they had only dry cleaning services available to the public.
So in a hundred insidious ways, the legal squeeze is on.
So walk around town. Look for a place to sit, a place to eat, a place to pee.
Oh yeah… pee!
You already don’t want to do this in someone’s yard or in the park. But what if you really got to go? And isn’t it funny that the moment I mentioned it, you start feeling the need?
Well there are 7/11’s hither and yon, but if you keep using their facility without making a purchase (depending on the clerk), you can get run off. There are Walmarts around, but you might have to walk 30 blocks to get there. It sure would be simple just to get behind that lilac bush. Just imagine sleeping out here tonight.
Some nights, not always, but some nights I get up to pee three times or more, and I complain about it. Thank God my bathroom door is only five feet from my bed! A bathroom with privacy, indoor plumbing, climate control!!! But if I was sleeping outside, why would I walk 30 blocks to the Walmart? Would you???
And speaking of privacy… How many security cameras do you see trained on you as you take this little stroll? That 7/11’s got’m. Walmart has 20 of them just on the lot! And you see them more and more all over the residential district! Not that someone is always monitoring them (its information overload!), but you very likely leave a visual recording of everything you do which once noticed will draw attention on you.
Be sure to behave yourself while taking this walk. Crime is crime, but being homeless is not. So take care not to be caught J-walking or loitering. (And just how long does it take before lingering in this shady area becomes “loitering”?) After a couple of solid hours walking and looking and thinking, stop and pray about what you see.
Do any of the homes you see look particularly welcoming?
You are a human being! You have behaved yourself for the last two hours of walking around, but if you, a stranger, knocked on any of these doors and asked if you can use their restroom, which one do you think would be most likely to receive you?
And notice, THEY ALL HAVE WELCOME MATS!
But you are not in your part of town. You don’t know people who live in this neighborhood. And I don’t know if you got off the bus in a well-to-do neighborhood or one that is slipping and getting overrun with renters or if you are in one that has tanked and is overrun with crack houses. But you do the calculations and then tell me: Which one of these homes do you think is most likely to let you in?
Do you think the rich house will welcome you? Do you think the house with the Welcome mat AND an ADT sign in the bushes will welcome you? Do you think the house with the security camera will welcome you? Do you think the poor house will welcome you?
(I would bet on that young, vulnerable, single-parent Mamma of those three little rug rats! She is the one most likely! I would bet on it.)
Do you think your church will welcome you?
But of course, you have committed no crime! And for that matter, being homeless is not a crime!
(And btw: Why would showing LOVE to the poor be second guessed? Who does that serve???)