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U.S. Opinions: Chicago

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Helping the homeless

From an editorial in the Chicago Tribune on Sunday:

In March, police in Birmingham, Ala., told a pastor who was handing out hot dogs and bottled water to homeless people living beneath a viaduct he had to stop because he didn’t have a food truck permit.

Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Orlando, Dallas and dozens of other cities also have cracked down on their homeless by regulating soup kitchens, ticketing panhandlers and imposing bans on sleeping in public areas. Pensacola, Fla., passed an ordinance prohibiting sleeping outdoors while “covered by materials such as a bedroll, cardboard, newspapers or inside some form of temporary shelter.” Public outrage prompted a reversal of the blanket ban.

Homeless advocates see a culture change – a shift away from feeling compassion to vilifying people struggling.

There is one solution that has a track record of reducing the homeless population: creating affordable housing. Phoenix has identified homeless veterans and linked them with housing that doesn’t impose restrictions on them, such as staying sober. The idea is that the veterans are more likely to address substance abuse problems after they have stabilized their living situations.

The White House in June challenged the nation’s mayors to reduce their populations of homeless veterans.

Denying food and warmth isn’t the answer. A renewed focus on affordable housing is.

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