It’s a crime the way homeless people sleep
It was nearly 8 a.m. when I locked up my bike and trailer outside the McDonald’s in the 1400 block of West Broadway Avenue and slouched into the restaurant.
After over six hours of uninterrupted sleep in my parkade last night I was still tired. And I noticed that my homeless friend Ivan, sitting in an northeast-facing window seat, looked as bleary-eyed as I felt.
But sleepy as we were, Ivan and I were both upright, law-abiding citizens—not like the homeless jumble of long, matted blond hair and puffy parka that was hunched over and sound asleep in a booth seat around a corner from the front order counter.
At first glance he actually had the ruddy look of an early-rising snowboarder on his way to the slopes. But I could see, among his belongings piled on the booth seat opposite him, a plastic milk crate full of junk from the alleys, including used Tim Horton’s takeaway paper cups.
Within 15 minutes two Vancouver police officers were in the restaurant. I watched one of them make a offhand gesture towards my bike trailer as they came walking up the street.
The two officers stood and surveyed the sleeping man as they both carefully put on disposable blue latex gloves. He had been there since nearly 5 a.m., I overheard a manager explain to them.
Then one officer began the process of waking the fellow up—first just verbally, with no result, then by both plucking at the man’s shoulder and calling to him.
“Wake up wake up wake up wake up…”
Not loud or aggressive; just calmly insistent.
As the man stirred, the officer tried to elicit a response from him—repeatedly asking what his name was.
“Wake up wake up wake up. What’s you’re name. We’re not going anywhere. Wake up. What’s you’re name. You have to leave or else we’ll have to arrest you.”
By degrees the man stirred and finally woke up enough so that the two officers could escort him out of the restaurant.
I’m tired of seeing this soft mistreatment
Out on the sidewalk, the man stopped and sat down on his milk crate beside the front door, as if he intended to panhandle. The officers were having none of that. They calmly ordered him away from the restaurant altogether and stood silently watching his back as he walked away.
This use of expensive law enforcement resources to make wake up calls on tired homeless people is one of the inputs used to arrive at the (I say) ridiculous estimates of the annual cost to society of each and every homeless person.
Two years ago, to take just one example, a commission in Central Florida pegged the annual cost at USD$31,000 per homelessness person.
The commission’s figure included the salaries of the law-enforcement officers employed to “arrest and transport homeless individuals—largely for nonviolent offenses such as trespassing, public intoxication or sleeping in parks—as well as the cost of jail stays, emergency-room visits and hospitalization for medical and psychiatric issues”.
In stark contrast, the commission explained that it cost a mere 10 grand per year to house a homeless person.
The Housing First crowd love these “any-kind-of-social-housing-looks-cheap-at-twice-the-price” estimates of the cost to society of leaving people on the street. Such is the clinching argument in the Housing First sales pitch to politicians and bean counters alike.
But I say that the Florida commission and all others who invent such estimates have it all wrong.
What they’re calculating isn’t the cost to society of homeless—it’s the cost that society pays to deliberately criminalize homelessness.
If homelessness is a crime why aren’t we arresting developers?
Homelessness, at its root, is just a variety of poverty and has been a normal product of our economy for decades.
However, by singling out homeless people for special mistreatment at every turn, society demonstrates some kind of need to portray homelessness as an unnatural condition—a kind of criminal insanity—hopelessly confused with mental illness and drug addiction—and typified by a small percentage of terribly maladjusted souls (who are definitely not at all like ordinary people).
Students studying at the Main Library downtown fall asleep all the time. Commuters often get in a bit of shuteye on buses and SkyTrain. Come summer, I know I’ll see Fairview residents napping on blankets on the lawn in front of the School Board building.
I also regularly see people dozing at their tables in fast food restaurants and in the comfy chairs at coffee shops.
But of all the people I have ever seen fall asleep in public, I can honestly say that I have only ever seen the homeless ones hassled for it by police.
I ask you, who else, besides a homeless person, faces being arrested for falling asleep? Who else but a homeless person could possibly risk a criminal record and jail time for serial snoozing?
And I wonder why that is? Click the images to enlarge them.