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.