At Fark I found this story about a homeless guy in Palm Beach who went to sleep in a dumpster, woke up in a garbage truck, and is now suing the city.
This particular story aside, it brings to mind some thoughts I've been forming about homeless people in general. These thoughts aren't original with me, but I haven't expressed them here as far as I know.
I really feel sorry for homeless people. I have a lot of compassion for them, regardless of why they are homeless.
I have supported Covenant House for years, which is a Catholic organization that helps homeless teens and runaways. These kids are vulnerable and are usually exploited, but with help they can turn their lives around.
Similarly, I have a lot of compassion for people and families who have temporary financial problems and end up on the street. There are a lot of public and private organizations that help these folks out, and they don't usually stay homeless very long. In fact, I know a couple of people who have "lived in their cars" or otherwise had to rough it during a lean time.
However, the saddest and most pitiable of the homeless are the drug- or alcohol-addicted or insane wretches that exist in every city in the country. I have a lot of compassion for them, because their mental problems are the cause of their misery, but without treatment they are doomed to their life. I can (and do) give them a meal or a few bucks from time to time, but I know that what they really need is medical care.
But, unless they kill or injure someone and are sentenced to it by the court, they will not get the care they need.
What is wrong with our society that we are satisfied to leave our most vulnerable to starve and suffer in alleyways in the grips of addiction or insanity? They are grown adults but are no more capable of taking control of their lives than a child. If we found a child living on the streets, we would rescue them, get them the care they needed, and put them into a home so they could grow into adulthood.
We aren't doing them any favors by allowing crazy people to live in the bushes behind the Publix. Either they are adults and have chosen this life (in which case they are culpable to charges of trespassing, panhandling, etc.), or they are the victims of their own actions or the actions others that has resulted in their diminished mental capacity. If it's the latter, they should get the help they need in a hospital, which has the additional virtue of getting them out of the gutter and into a bed with a roof over their head.
It is not compassionate to pretend that the crazy drunk guy has the same range of choices that you or I do. It is not compassionate to withhold the care these people need through some misguided ideas about respecting their wishes.
It is more compassionate to remove a person from a dangerous situation and try to heal them. Homeless shelters aren't enough, though I applaud and support their efforts. If a homeless person resists their removal from the streets, they should be compelled through force of law, the same way you would compel a runaway child through force of law.
Why did we stop giving people with mental illnesses the care we need? When did we decide that the care of professionals was a bad thing for the non-criminally insane?
This movie has a lot to answer for, I think.