America’s homeless are lawyering up to fight for a “right” to live on the street — your neighborhood and personal safety be damned.
From Fort Lauderdale to Los Angeles, cities are struggling with a surge in people living in cardboard boxes and doorways. Local lawmakers are trying to ban “camping out” in public and ordering police to clear the fetid encampments.
Now lawyers for the homeless are pushing back. They’re demanding that “sleeping rough” be legally protected. In Denver, where living on the street is outlawed, lawyers for the homeless want to guarantee vagrants “the right to use and move freely in public spaces without discrimination.”
Outrageously, the Obama administration is siding with vagrants against local governments. President Obama’s Justice Department is trying to block Boise, Idaho’s, ban on sleeping in public. Cities around the country are worried their own laws may be next.
Not New York, of course. In our city, lawyers for the homeless already run City Hall. One of Mayor De Blasio’s top advisors is Steven Banks, a lawyer who spent three decades at the Legal Aid Society and has sued the city numerous times on behalf of the homeless. Under Mr. de Blasio’s tenure, 311 calls complaining about the homeless are up nearly 60%. The mayor dismisses that as “hysteria,” insisting the vast majority of homeless “don’t bother anybody.”
Los Angeles — the homeless capital of the nation — is trying to halt the spread of cardboard shanties: Obamavilles. But the city has lost a string of lawsuits, as judges ruled the homeless have constitutional rights to sleep in cars and store their possessions on the sidewalk.
Los Angeles is short on shelter beds, but beds alone don’t solve the problem. In New York, homeless families generally go to shelters. But 80% of vagrants are single adults with mental illness or drug addiction. Their insistence on street living punishes the rest of us. We have to endure the heart-wrenching sights of human beings in rags lying on sidewalks.
Jail may not be the answer, but allowing street living isn’t, either. There has to be an involuntary mental-health alternative. Mr. de Blasio is sending treatment teams to the streets for individualized care. But it’s voluntary. Many will reject help. The city should also get vagrants off the street. That is, if the feds allow it.
Boise is trying to ban street encampments it deems unsanitary and unsafe. But on Aug. 6, the Obama Justice Department intervened to stop the city. The DOJ argues that depriving people of a “right” to sleep on the street if there are no shelter beds is a “cruel and unusual punishment,” violating the Constitution. The fiction is claiming not enough beds. The city insists there are.
The DOJ’s intervention is a warning to cities everywhere. Homeless advocate Carol Sobel warns that cities must “figure out how to respond to the causes of homelessness and not punish people for their status.” That’s the wacky ideology cities will be battling in lawsuit after lawsuit — that living on the street is acceptable and deserves legal protection.
Sadly, that’s the prevailing mentality in the de Blasio administration as well. Mayor Giuliani considered homeless encampments a scourge. But Mr. de Blasio says “it’s not against the law to be homeless.” His emphasis is on serving the homeless, increasing funding for “homeless services” by $1 billion. Not protecting the public.
Never mind the violent crimes committed by mentally ill street dwellers. On June 23, a woman was attacked by a machete-waving vagrant in Bryant Park; on July 25, a tourist was hospitalized after being assaulted by a homeless man; Police Commissioner Bratton is warning that street dwellers are using a synthetic marijuana that makes them “irrational, impervious to pain, and very dangerous.”
Mr. de Blasio blames “inequality” for the danger and disturbing sights on our streets. Wrong. It’s progressive ideology at its worst.
Ms. McCaughey is a senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research and author of “Beating Obamacare.”