Government Has a Hard Heart for the Homeless

Homeless people living in cardboard boxes in L...
Homeless people living in cardboard boxes in Los Angeles, California. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Elvis Summers helps the homeless. As Gale Holland of the Los Angeles Times reports, Summers has so far (with the help of $100,000 in private donations) built and placed 37 “tiny houses” in the LA metro area so that people with nowhere to live can move off the sidewalks, out of their tents or cardboard boxes, and into parking-spot-sized buildings with solar powered lighting and doors that lock.

Instead of presenting Summers with an award for improving the city and making the lives of its residents better, the city of Los Angeles has begun seizing — no, let’s not mince words, STEALING — the homes, rudely evicting the individuals and couples living in them. Why? Well, says a mayoral spokesperson, they “can be hazardous.”

It’s been 30 years since I last walked the streets of Los Angeles at night and saw people crawling into boxes to sleep on the sidewalks, but my guess is that a lockable house is now, as it would have been then, less “hazardous” than those streets.

The city has big plans for its homeless population, of course. They’re going to be moved into nice full-size apartments! When? Oh … well … someday.

Yes, the tiny houses sit on “public property.” So do the tents. So do the tarps. So do the bedrolls. Where else would they sit? It’s not like the homeless have homes to take them home to.

It’s not just Los Angeles. Across the country, local governments seem hell-bent on preventing anyone from actually helping the homeless.

In 2014, Arnold Abbot of Fort Lauderdale, Florida was ticketed by police — twice! — for the “crime” of distributing free food to those who had none. Yes, the kindness of a 90-year-old World War II veteran made him a criminal.  As of late 2014, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless, 39 US cities enforced laws against unauthorized feeding of the hungry.

Twice in ten years, my wife and I opened our home to friends who were temporarily without a roof overhead. Twice in ten years we were ticketed and fined by our city government for hosting guests not listed on our residency permit.

As a libertarian, I’m skeptical of claims that government can or will help the homeless (or anyone else). But is it really too much to ask for the politicians — if not out of humanity, then from a sense of moral shame — to get out of the way and let people help each other?

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.


Also published on Medium.

  • JdL

    Twice in ten years we were ticketed and fined by our city government for hosting guests not listed on our residency permit.

    Dang! How did they know?

    • Small town, nosy neighbors/officials.

      Basically the way the ordinance was structured was that if they stayed for more than X number of days in a month (I forget whether it was three or five), they weren’t “guests” or “visitors” but “residing” there.

      So if your neighbor (or in our case, I suspect, a city official) didn’t like you and saw strange people coming and going, they could just watch for those people to enter/leave on X number of days.

      • JdL

        Sheesh! And this “residency permit” was, I’m sure, larded with provisions that were shoved down your throat. What horrible petty tyrants! I’m guessing that your guests didn’t spend their waking hours blasting loud music into the neighborhood, or engage in endless loud arguments in the front yard, or do anything else of a profoundly anti-social nature. Just pointless busybodies. We’re plagued with them at every level, from the U.N. down to the smallest towns. It’s enough to make a person want to go postal. 🙂

        • OTOH, illegal aliens are running veritable hotels (tih 10 cars on their lawns after dark.) and no one does anything

          • You say that like it’s a bad thing.

            And you say it as if there was any such thing as an “illegal alien.”

  • Socrates Wilde

    Great piece!

    • Fred Bastiat

      That was some good reporting. The government does not care about those most in need and most without voice – its a hard lesson for anyone witnessing it first had. Great find Socrates.

      • Socrates Wilde

        Tom is one of my top favorite cotemporary libertarian writers

        • Thanks, Socrates!

          There wasn’t a Saturday column — I had a combination of illness, car problems and meetings to juggle today. But I’ll be back Tuesday.

          • Socrates Wilde

            Get well! (I may have a developing impacted tooth, but I’m fighting it.)

          • Ouch. Good luck with that — nothing is worse than tooth problems.

          • Socrates Wilde

            Thanks. It’s worse if you’re extremely poor and without medical options. Trying vitamin C, garlic oil, and ibuprofen.

  • dL

    good piece…its illegal to be poor in the progressive state