Friday, November 7, 2014

It's not Just Feeding the Homeless

At first glance, this article seem to be about an outrageous exercise of state power. After all, despite cynical assertions to the contrary, Americans are among the most charitable people in the world. Who could object to feeding the hungry?

Fort Lauderdale Charges 90-Year-Old, Two Pastors for Feeding Homeless

Homeless activist Arnold Abbott, 90, and Christian ministers Dwayne Black of the Sanctuary Church in Fort Lauderdale and Mark Sims of St. Mary Magdalene Episcopal Church in Coral Springs were handing out meals in a park on Sunday, two days after Fort Lauderdale's ordinance took effect, when police approached them with their sirens flashing, Black said. The three were issued citations and face a $500 fine or 60 days in jail.

"This is not how our government is supposed to work," Black told NBC News. "These are people who need to be fed, and we will be feeding [again] today at 5 o'clock."

The ordinance — the fourth one that Fort Lauderdale has passed this year concerning the homeless — requires groups handing out food to homeless to be at least 500 feet away from residential properties. It limits feeding sites for homeless to one in any given city block, and prevent feeding sites from being within 500 feet of each other.

First, let me be plain. There is no such thing as a "proper exercise of state power". That said, the institution is not going away quickly so the best I can hope for at this time is that government will act in a manner consistent with how a hypothetical owner of so-called "public property" would act.

So, in that light, how is government supposed to act? The fellows mentioned in the article are feeding the homeless but that action has foreseeable consequences. Handing out meals certainly encourages the recipients to congregate in the area. In addition to needing food the homeless will also need places to sleep as well as places to urinate and defecate. I doubt the owner of any property would encourage such activities on his on land. Since the taxpayers of Ft. Lauderdale are forced to pay for the property the homeless will occupy between feedings, the government has a responsibility to manage that property as if it was owned by those taxpayers.

So, while not perfect, restricting the ability of charities to feed the homeless is government working as it is supposed to.

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