Helping or Harassing the Homeless: A Contrast

While some are still enforcing draconian laws that harass the homeless, others are coming up with creative ways to help them.

As we are heading into the winter months and celebrating the holiday season, it’s a good time to be thankful for what we have and think about those that are less fortunate like the homeless in our communities.
I recently came across two articles that pertained to the homeless in drastically different ways. The first article focused on a homeless man who was deemed a habitual drunkard by a law that only two states in the country still have on the books, Utah and my home state of Virginia. Now that he has been deemed a habitual drunkard, it is illegal for him to “possess” alcohol and he is continually being arrested in kept in jail for as many as 60 days at a time, even when not actually drinking.
The problem for him, like many of the homeless, is that alcohol may be an addiction or something that they are simply not going to give up. It’s easy to say that they should just stop possessing and drinking alcohol. That would be fine for many people but not necessarily for those that suffer homelessness, and, is continually throwing them in jail for possessing alcohol really the best option, or, even right?
The Legal Aid Justice Center doesn’t think so and filed a class-action lawsuit that challenges the constitutionality of the law, stating that the law violates the homeless’ due process by criminalizing a lawful activity without required constitutional protections. The legal challenges are ongoing after an initial defeat in the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, but the case will come up again in 2019 before the entire 15 judge bench “En banc.”
Regardless of the courts, it’s neither a humane nor an effective way to treat the homeless and is fraught with abuse by over-zealous police and prosecutors.
And now for the second article’s story. This involves individuals that saw a need regarding the homeless and are working to do something about it. That need is better nutrition. The National Health Care for the Homeless Council has found that, on average, meals provided to the homeless by shelters are high in fat and low in fiber and key nutrients.
Christian Zammas, a local business owner who has also been an executive chef and has experienced homelessness has teamed with April Payne of the Virginia Cooperative Extension and Laura Visioni of the Dr. Yum Project to create a program that will teach the homeless nutrition basics and the ways to make nutritious meals with limited space and resources.
The meal ideas will be simple and can be produced with portable items such as hot plates or crock-pots. They also want the kids involved, so they too want to participate and get excited about eating healthier.
I believe that working to help the homeless eat better in their times of need as they try to navigate their way to a better life is much more productive than heavy-handed harassment for their weaknesses or addictions.