California dreamin’: A “Homeless bill of rights”

Homelessness is a widespread problem, but it’s not one government is capable, competent to clever enough to tackle Photo: AP Photo/Nick Ut

CALIFORNIA May 31, 2013 — Never mind the massive budget deficits, the most hostile business climate in the nation, oppressive tax rates, the crumbling infrastructure, and the out of control social engineering in the public schools: California is finally protecting homelessness.

Proposed legislation (AB-5) would grant special protections for anyone who’s homeless, or just “perceived” to be homeless. Besides ensuring “rights, privileges or access to public services” cannot be denied based on “housing status,” the bill protects a homeless person’s right to: solicit donations (panhandling) in public spaces (such as highway medians; parks; sidewalks; intersections; restaurant entrances); self-employment (dumpster diving); rest (i.e., sleep) in public spaces; and the use of a motor vehicle for shelter.

The bill also mandates the availability of “social and health care services … in a sufficient quantity to meet the population’s needs, without … making locations inconvenient … or prohibiting access due to a person’s inability to provide identification or criminal justice history.” And, if there’s a mere perception of being harassed or that adequate services are not available, then legal counsel will be provided by the county free of charge.

Where is this headed? Homelessness in California seems to be targeted for eventual protected class status, just like race, national origin, ethnicity, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, genetic information and disability. Though intended to curb what many see as legalized harassment by city ordinances trying to discourage vagrants, it will actually institutionalize and incentivize an undesirable human condition.

Believe it or not, most of us are concerned for those living on streets, or holding up signs at stop lights, particularly when children are involved. But the creation of new “rights” by government does nothing to address the real problems when they are so complicated, emotional and widespread.

To determine whether proposed legislation will help or make things worse, we need to ask, who really are the homeless?

As a starting point, the Bible clearly identifies three broad categories of those in need: the idle; the fainthearted and the weak (1 Thessalonians 3:14).

What gets the most media attention are the fainthearted – those suffering from major calamity such as job loss, financial ruin, accidents and exploitation by others. They’re trapped in poverty with no apparent way out. Help is available through local social services and volunteer organizations for those willing to change their situation. But extensive involvement on a personal level is required to ensure resources are not taken advantage of (2 Thessalonians 3:10). This is something a bureaucratic government is incapable of providing.

The weak have major physical or mental disabilities. These could be the result of sinful drug or alcohol abuse, crippling disease, injuries, birth defects, PTSD, some accident, or self-inflicted harm. Whatever the past, these are people now incapable of functioning in any productive or normal fashion in society. They require significant, sustained, and compassionate help that recognizes a unique life that came into existence endowed with the image of God (Genesis 1:27). But think about it; does this describe any government entity you’re aware of?

Fortunately, our compassionate society is endowed with a Christian worldview legacy that’s very willing to provide long term help for the weak. However, only the community, church or family can effectively tailor and apply the help the person actually needs. Typically, a secular government obsessed with program size and increasing tax revenue will be incapable of providing the discerning environment the weak actually need.

Finally, those that are idle (lazy; irresponsible; foolish; charlatans) need to be warned to be responsible for their own lives and stop taking advantage of the misguided compassion of others. Accountability is the key to force a change in this behavior. Biblically, this is summarized by the phrase: “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). Has government ever been able to implement such a principle?

Government, by its nature, is not capable of discerning who is worthy or unworthy of help. As an institution it exists to dispense justice in punishing evil doers (Romans 13:3-4), and ensuring an environment for our promotion of good according to God’s common grace (1 Peter 2:14).

This is why creating a Homeless bill of rights becomes so counter-productive. It institutionalizes, protects, and even encourages socially unacceptable behavior that’s symptomatic of major life issues while appearing compassionate. This plays to an opportunist’s sinful nature, and removes incentives to face one’s real life issues.

Jesus said we will always have those in need around us (Matthew 26:11). They’re a constant reminder of how blessed we are and how we as a family, a church, and a community have the privilege to fulfill one of our greatest opportunities in our freedom-rich nation: to help those in real need (Matthew 22:39).

That is our role, not the government’s.


Follow Frank on Twitter @FrankKacer or #BiblicalPolitics

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Frank Kacer

Frank Kacer has been writing and lecturing on the applications of a Biblical worldview to the contemporary issues of the day since the mid 1990s. Besides his regular Biblical Politics column with the Washington Times Communities, Frank has authored over 100 op-ed columns for Good News Etc. and the popular Christian Examiner. Frank can be reached at


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