The Homeless You Will Always Have With You, but Not Too Close

By R. Emmett Tyrrell

September 26, 2019 5 min read

WASHINGTON — Every morning, I take the four morning newspapers I subscribe to into the kitchen and glance at their front pages as I eat. Occasionally, I have a little trouble downing my matutinal feast, as the front pages, especially those of The New York Times and The Washington Post, are usually repulsive.

The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Times generally cover the same stories as the Times and the Post, but their editors are more considerate of us readers. They realize that their newspapers are probably going to be read, at least at first, by readers who're breakfasting. Thus, no corpses, no people bleeding to death, no catastrophic accidents and, please, no victims of starvation or other grisly events involving food. Those are invariably the subjects covered by our Newspapers of Conscience, or whatever they're pleased to call themselves.

Last Sunday — the Lord's day! — was no different. The Times featured 64 shooting victims on its front page. At least they were portrayed in a dignified manner. Just headshots, though why they appeared on the front page I have no idea. I plan to take up the matter with a friendly psychiatrist. The Post featured a homeless man reposing on his side in baggy, dirty clothing, apparently asleep. The picture on the front page was snapshot-size, though it was repeated on the front page of the Post's "Outlook" and took up almost the entire page. It took up so much of the page that a girl's well-turned ankles could be seen as she passed the recumbent man. He, for his part, was at least well cushioned by fat, so he was getting some restful sleep.

The picture highlighted yet another article about homelessness in California, written by one Chris Herring, a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at the University of California, Berkeley. I hope Herring gets his Ph.D. before he, too, becomes homeless. He spent thousands of words saying nothing of much interest. His point is that both Democrats and Republicans are intent on the same policy toward the homeless — which, by the way, is not true.

Herring concludes: "While Democratic politicians criminalize homelessness, they at least see its root causes in stagnating wages and lack of government-funded affordable housing — diagnoses supported by research. Trump, on the other hand, blames high taxes, overregulation, poor public service delivery, mental illness, and drug addiction," whereupon our young Ph.D. candidate lays the blame for "mass homelessness" on Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. Why not Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, too?

Actually, the president has it about right when he attributes homelessness to mental health and drug addiction, but why stop there? Why not go back to the Nixon years? It was about that time when the nationwide extirpation of vagrancy laws began. Now the homeless are completely out of control.

Up until the late 1960s, you could not just flop down on a sidewalk to nap. If you did, it would be only a matter of time before a cop nudged you with his billy club. Now, of course, we have free shelters where you can sleep and soup kitchens where you can dine. One has to rouse oneself when it's time for the hired help to clean up the shelter, but that's not so bad. One can, if he or she is in San Francisco or any of the other enlightened California cities, even make his or her toilet in the great outdoors — say, on a lamppost or a park bench. I saw a Washingtonian do it here in this enlightened city just the other day. After finishing one's toilette, one is free in our great cities to then go out and hassle tourists or beg on the street until it is time to dine at the shelter or perhaps some upscale soup kitchen supplied by one of our do-good organizations.

As I have said, the homeless are now completely out of control. They are people who, for whatever reason, have refused to conform to minimum standards of self-restraint or decency. Every relaxation of standards they just took advantage of. Every amenity offered them they took advantage of.

Now, state and local governments are criminalizing homelessness. It is back to the '60s, and I favor it. Yet, I doubt the homeless will just disappear. They are too far gone.

R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is founder and editor in chief of The American Spectator. He is a senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research and the author, most recently, of "The Death of Liberalism," published by Thomas Nelson, Inc. To find out more about R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

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