There was a time when nomads could travel and camp where they wished. Songs about roaming and wandering glamorized the idea. And wayfaring strangers were always cool. But today being homeless is none of the above. Not cool, no glamour.
Today we are told literally thousands of homeless people try to camp in Boise City. This is bad for the business of the city, and bad for the business of business. Fortunately a lawsuit has been filed. Unfortunately it is by the homeless themselves and not by downtown development or advocacy groups, or the Chamber. This is backwards.
The lawsuit reported by the Associated Press seems problematic though. It refers to “homeless residents.” How do you establish residency if you are homeless? The law surely deals with this but it would seem an address might be necessary. Can you truly be an at-large “resident” with no home base and still claim residency? In how many locales can you simultaneously claim residency?
This is no doubt a lose-lose situation for the city or business community to fight but the perceived safety of walk-around customers is a critical consideration for any locale wanting to be known for business or entertainment. Tell business travelers, conventioneers, or locals wanting to support our locals that 4,000 homeless will be camping in our parks, under our bridges, in alley ways, door alcoves, and we suddenly become Los Angeles, or the back streets of New Orleans.
I remember asking while visiting Santa Fe if it was safe to walk around. The locals all said “yes,” just stay within one block of the “Square.” Seems the local police and private security hired by business owners kept wanderers away from tourists and their wallets. It is not that homeless people are criminals, but they make others uncomfortable to a point they won’t walk or spend. And that is a problem.
It is fair to note that Mayor David Bieter has a plan to keep people from walking Boise’s ten block business area by investing $40 million in a street car system. Hopefully anti-camping laws would also apply to all-day ridership. But just what is Boise City’s responsibility to provide free housing to the masses?
Do all towns and cities have a responsibility to provide year-round no-fee camping areas for the itinerant? What capacity would the courts accept – 400 campsites, 800? Those numbers pale next to an estimate of 4,000. And I’m thinking Saturday night Bronco and Vandal revelers would have literally consumed a free campground and pushed the homeless into the river.
Hopefully any judge looking at this lawsuit will see it has no home in the court system. Destroying towns will not help the homeless. Perhaps revisiting the Homestead Act would be a better solution. Carve out some free land in the foothills or south of the Boise Airport and let people improve, build, create and earn their own way. I like the sound of that better anyway.s