The homeless are not helpless

By Leo K. O'Drudy, III
web posted February 12, 2001

I have worked here in Washington, DC, for about six years now. For much of that time, every morning, there has been a shabby, crazy woman in tiger-striped makeup who camps herself out beside a magnificent statue of Christopher Columbus that stands between Union Station and the Capitol.

Smack in the path of a heavy stream of foot traffic, she is the first impression thousands of visitors from around America and all over the globe have of Washington. She has been there through most, if not all, of Bill Clinton's presidency, vanishing every winter only to reappear every spring.

HomelessMany conservative commentators have been predicting a sudden resurgence of interest in "homelessness" by the liberal media and their allies in political office. After the endless caterwauling we heard about this issue under Presidents Reagan and Bush, which contrasts sharply with the utter silence about it while Bill Clinton was president, it will indeed be interesting to see whether that old political weapon of the Left is hauled out and used once again against the new President Bush. If a Republican has been in office for a while, the existence of "homelessness" must become his fault, and his failure to solve the problem will be blamed on his supposed cruelty and hatred for the weak.

I think these predictions are probably right. And conservatives need to prepare for this onslaught.

The first thing for us to remember and repeat is that the very terms "homeless" and "homelessness" are politically correct euphemisms, which is to say, lies. They are lies because they are deliberately misleading; they lead one's attention to a peripheral problem (the lack of a home) instead of the central problems (drinking and drug abuse, mental illness, and old-fashioned sloth). The crazy mumbling men I see every evening, or the healthy men who have decided to lie around outside during the day or bother honest people making their way to and from work (read: bums), will not become model citizens if they are suddenly presented with the keys to a home.

If that sort of thing worked, public housing would be the safest and nicest areas to live in.
Why, then, are they called "homeless" instead of "bums", "winos", and "mentally unbalanced"? Because we are meant to be convinced that, but for a few paychecks, we could be those people. Thus, we should feel fear for the future, doubt about the justice of free enterprise capitalism, and, most importantly, shame for our civilization and way of life. This helps push along the Politically Correct agenda, and to preserve the welfare state.

Sometimes, yes, someone otherwise honest and hardworking falls into misfortune, loses his home or can't pay his rent, and sleeps in his car or at a church shelter for a while until he gets back on his feet.

But the publicity accorded such cases is misleadingly disproportionate. By far most "homeless" people are exactly what they seem: lazy, addicted, or insane.

My father grew up in New York City in the 1930's. The Great Depression, the most crushing economic collapse in many lifetimes, was a daily reality. As a child he roamed all over the city via its trolleys and subways. And yet, he never saw people sleeping on grates and benches, wandering around draped in blankets, camped out in front of every subway stop. Nor did the vast majority of urban Americans. Such things were unheard of.

Beggars just hanging around or pestering honest people in the streets was something every American associated with faraway lands, cities like Cairo, Mexico City, Calcutta. That's why Washington DC today, and other American cities, are still a shock for my father. The character and fabric of daily life in America's urban centers, even our financial, shopping, government, and recreational districts, has changed dramatically for the worse.

Left-wing politicians and, to a great degree, left-wing judicial activism, are responsible for this collapse. Generations ago, police officers would simply arrest vagrants for violating laws against, well, vagrancy. And those not in their right minds were kept in mental hospitals, and given treatment.

Once the Left was finished, however, the mentally ill could not be detained or treated against their will if they were deemed not a danger to themselves or others. And great solicitous care was taken for the rights of bums; now a paper bag surrounding a bottle of rotgut cannot be opened by the police as proof that a wino is violating the city's ban on drinking in public, not without a search warrant.

And the parks and sidewalks of America's cities take on the character of miserable Third World slums. The Left has much to answer for, especially its cohorts on the federal bench who legislate rather than interpret, as well as the media that continues to blame "homelessness" on "selfish" conservatives. And that's the second thing we should remember to speak up about when the liberals begin the "homeless" game again.

Leo O'Drudy is a host of Direct Line, Free Congress' live interactive Renaissance Network television program.

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