While finding ways to arrest and confine the homeless to jail is a solution, it is not the right one.
By Jack Howell
I recently took a walk into the homeless encampment behind the library on Palm Coast Parkway. I was not at all shocked at the sights, squalor, and stench of this horrible blight affecting our beautiful city. It is what I expected. As a former law enforcement officer, I have seen much worse. However, my observation and discussion with the residents with the camp were well worth my time and effort. A true learning experience!
Homelessness significantly increased during the 1980s to where it is today. The fact is that we can no longer ignore the consequences of dealing with the homelessness within our community. While there are several homeless encampments throughout the city, the camp at the library is somewhat unique. While this camp is located on Flagler County property, the residents are living in Palm Coast. Jointly, the Flagler County Board of County Commissioners and the Palm Coast City Council must immediately take actions to resolve this problem before it gets entirely out of control.
The question is how do we as a government handle this? In my opinion, there are no easy solutions. To begin with, we must confront the myriad of issues that the homeless individual and families are dealing with. The squalor that they are living in is a public health hazard. Hygiene, at all levels, is missing. The homeless are living in conditions that surround them with human waste and garbage.
The homeless are living in survival mode! It is important to note that some homeless are episodic, transitional or chronic.
As our government deals with this issue, we must remember that the homeless have legal rights afforded them by the United States Constitution. Briefly, the First Amendment may exempt persons experiencing homelessness from anti-loitering, anti-begging, and anti-food sharing laws. The Fourth Amendment may entitle people experiencing homelessness to be free from the confiscation and destruction of personal property stored in public spaces. The Eight Amendment which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment may entitle persons experiencing homelessness to be free from anti-sleeping, anti-sitting or encampment laws. The 14th Amendment's due process clause may authorize individuals experiencing homelessness to be free from laws prohibiting them from living in cars and those that prohibit loitering.
So where do we go from here? To abate this problem will take a team effort to include government, government services, religious organizations, media, schools and charities as a start. It takes a village. There will be a need for adequate housing, medical services to include mental health and substance abuse programs, education focused on job skills, job placement, and child support/assistance: This is but the tip of the iceberg.
Thus we must get an ad-hoc committee together as quickly as possible to take ownership and control. While merely finding ways to arrest and confine the homeless to jail is a solution, it is not the right one.
Jack D. Howell, Ph.D., is a retired colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps and is a representative on the Palm Coast City Council.