The Homeless are like Bears

And homeless near a thousand homes I stood,
And near a thousand tables pined and wanted food.

-William Wordsworth, Guilt and Sorrow

Once again the homeless are in the news and, as always, the question
is what to do with them. The solutions are not always obvious but the
attempts can be described as nothing, if not creative and in many cases
the National Park Service's treatment of bears offers guidance.

Those with long memories will recall the town in Florida that
treated the homeless by following the example of Yellowstone National
Park. Rangers in Yellowstone relocate unwanted bears far from where they
are picked up hoping that once relocated they will not return to the
places from which they have been taken. The Florida town picked up the
homeless from tourist areas and moved them to outlying areas hoping that
the relocated homeless would enjoy the fruits of their relocation even
though none of the fruits included a home. I have been unable to
determine how successful that program was. In all events, towns today
continue to follow the example set by the rangers in Yellowstone.

According to,
many communities have adopted rules that not only ban begging but ban
furnishing food to the homeless, a practice followed in national parks
with bears where feeding them is strictly forbidden. In Myrtle Beach,
South Carolina, an ordinance was adopted that prohibits sharing food
with the homeless in public parks. In Phoenix zoning laws were invoked
to shut down a church that was serving breakfast to the homeless and
others. Gainesville, Florida restricts the number of people soup
kitchens can serve even though the number is less than the facility can
comfortably accommodate.

Miami is considering an ordinance
that would require people who distribute food to the homeless to go
through formal training instructing them on how to ensure the food they
are serving is safe and how to clean up the mess left behind. Those
serving food would also have to provide a portable restroom and on-site
sink. That will eliminate those serving food from the backs of vehicles
and in parks. Although neither bears nor the homeless are going to
cease being nuisances as a result of these compassionate and enlightened
approaches to the problems they each pose, it is at least a way of
addressing the issue that may encourage the homeless to go and find a

Enlightened though those approaches are, none can hold a candle to
the approach favored by a town that has been described in this space and
elsewhere as a perfect town. Its residents are educated and
compassionate and live in beautiful houses, many of which replaced tiny
houses that people lived in before they realized how much nicer it was
to live in very big houses. That town is in Colorado and its name is

Like other affluent communities, Boulder's pristine quality and
virtually perfect ambience is slightly tarnished by the presence of the
homeless. Its council, in its wisdom, has devised a way of dealing with
them that is far more creative than the limits on their feeding imposed
by other communities. It has banned camping, something bears are
permitted to do, so long as they are not in the vicinity of humans and

Most people think of camping as a pleasant adventure that families
do with children on summer vacation. The wise rulers in Boulder,
however, have come up with a definition that redefines "camping."
"Camping" in Boulder does not require pitching a tent or cooking
"smores" over a campfire. All that is required is that the person lie
down on city property "with shelter." "Shelter" includes "any cover or
protection from the elements other than clothing." Thus, a homeless
person who lies down and places a blanket over him or herself or climbs
into a sleeping bag has taken "shelter" and violated the ordinance and
the offender can be ticketed and fined or jailed.

Boulder, like many communities, lacks sufficient adequate housing
for the homeless. From October 15 through December 31, 2009, 333
homeless people were turned away from the homeless shelter because of
lack of space. One of those people was David Madison. The temperature,
when he was denied shelter was 11 degrees. Mr. Madison took himself to
a public place, lay down and crawled into a sleeping bag in order to
keep from freezing. He was ticketed and convicted of violating the
camping ban. He is not the first to be ticketed.

Since Boulder is such a perfect place its police have little to do.
Accordingly, they have had the time to issue tickets to those who
violate the no camping ban and since 2006 have issued 1,650 tickets to
homeless people who violated the "no-camping" ordinance.

There is a bright side to being homeless in Boulder. It is OK for its residents to offer them food.

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