Now, this is really interesting. The debate about poverty in general and "homelessness" in particular is usually between liberals who say we have to show compassion for those less fortunate and conservatives who say we have to be careful not to make economic deprivation so comfortable that people don't seek to escape from it. But in this case, it is the advocates for the homeless who are taking the tough-love approach:
They're kind. They're industrious. They're generous.
Across Indianapolis, roughly three dozen groups of good Samaritans bring food and clothing and other amenities to the city's neediest, the hardcore homeless who live on the streets even in the bitterest cold.
And now, with freezing temperatures and up to 5 inches of snow in the forecast, advocates for the homeless have a request for these good Samaritans: Stop.
Stop showing up at homeless camps and dropping off mattresses. Stop handing out blankets and candles and tents.
Most importantly, stop giving directly to the homeless. It might seem like the right thing to do, the advocates say, but it actually can hamper their efforts to get the chronically homeless off the streets and into shelters.
The more bearable the streets, the advocates say, the less likely the homeless will seek shelter and counseling and, in the end, a better life.
"The more bearable the streets, the less likely the homeless will seek a better life." Boy, that could be an argument I'd make about making poverty too bearable. Come to think of it, I have made that argument.
Cynics might say the advocates are just looking out for themselves and the money they want to get a share of in fighting homelessness -- just read the comments thread. But let's give them credit for being sincere in really wanting to do the right thing, and ask, what is the right thing? Just to be clear, this isn't the recently homeless we're talking about, Mom and Dad and the two kids who just lost their apartment because Dad got laid off. It's these folks:
Indianapolis is home to an estimated 200 so-called chronically homeless people. Shelter-resistant, often mentally ill and with drug or alcohol problems, they sleep outdoors even on the coldest nights, often huddled in camps under bridges.
If the "shelter-resistant" don't seek indoor comfort in weather such as this, they're not likely to ever. These don't seem like good candidates for rehabilitation and "better lives," so why stop the "amateur helpers" from providing whatever comfort they can? As one of the commenters wrote, "Giving a blanket or a sandwich to a guy living under a bridge might deter him from heading into a shelter for better long-term care, but it might also keep him from dying that night."