As I mentioned in an earlier post, job interviews at Exbiblio can begin with a question about helping the homeless. I notice that from now on, helping the homeless on the streets of Las Vegas will become a criminal offence punishable by a $1000 fine or six months in jail.
Here in the UK, someone who commands a great deal of respect on this subject is John Bird, the founder of the magazine, The Big Issue. The Big issue is sold by homeless people as a way to help them get back on their feet. If Bird was interviewed for a job at Exbiblio, he would have an interesting answer to the question about what you might do when approached on the street for money.
Bird has attacked “hand-outs” as “mollycoddling” the homeless, and has accused charties and soup-kitchens of making the situation worse. (here’s one ex-homeless blogger who disagrees with him). In fact, I heard him telling the BBC today that giving bread to people on the streets is like “feeding pigeons.” He added that it gives them “hope but not opportunity.” In his view the only correct way to approach the problem of homelessness, is to work on ways to get people off the streets and back into mainstream life, rather than continuing their dependence.
This is a question with a number of legitimate approaches. To a large extent it should be about individual conscience and choice, but of course it’s important to take a look at what works and what doesn’t work. However, making it a jailable offence to help the homeless on the streets, as in Las Vegas, strikes me as quite extraordinary.