If you have watched political campaigns all of your life, or if you are just a student of modern political history, you’ll notice that the poor are rarely talked about on the campaign trail. We can talk about the rich (or at least our so-called envy of them), and the middle class is like the pretty girl in school who thinks she’s well-liked but really everybody just wants to screw. But you rarely hear candidates talk anymore about any kind of national commitment or shared responsibility to help the poor and destitute. (John Edwards tried for a minute, but… see screwing analogy above.)

Our politicians apparently concern themselves with helping only those people who have “worked hard” and “played by the rules.” We have Reagan to thank for that.

But what about the “undeserving” poor? What about the lazy, the shiftless, the ignorant masses yearning to just get by? Is it right that we consign them to backbreaking poverty simply because they don’t vote and they’re easy to pick on? I went to Catholic school just long enough to learn that we’re supposed to have compassion for all of God’s children, not just the people whom it’s easy to put into a campaign commercial.

I’m just talking, of course. Other than giving a dollar to the occasional panhandler, I’m unwilling to get any skin in the game to actually help the truly disadvantaged in this country. Why? Well, I don’t want to end up getting taken advantage of, like the woman who let homeless people stay in her house for Christmas and now can’t get them to leave….

People like to think that the poor deserve to be poor because of some personal failing. I think that crushing poverty can turn people into failures. If you are poor for long enough, you stop “playing by the rules” and start grifting for your next meal. While it’s nice — and perhaps crucially important in terms of national policy — to debate how people become homeless, it’s practically irrelevant to the question of “should you open up your house to homeless people.” That’s not a question of compassion, it’s a question of risk, and for my part I’m way too risk-averse to let some homeless person into my house.

Basically, I’d never do what Margaret Johnston of Florida did. From WWSB TV:

Margaret Johnston opened her home to two young homeless people a couple of days before Christmas in an effort to help the two get back on their feet. But days later, they wore out their welcome, and the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office told Johnston the two were now legal tenants, and she would have to file for eviction if she wanted them to leave.

Now, she wants to warn others before it’s too late.

This kind of thing happens. It happened to a family friend of Lat’s; she graciously opened up her home to a distant relative in need and, a month later, couldn’t get that person to leave.

In Johnston’s case, her problems aren’t due to some wacky statute dreamed up by some liberals high on tenants’ rights. She’s in this situation because of local custom. This is Southern hospitality, Florida-style:

“If someone stays in your place over two days, 48 hours actually, that they’re a tenant and you have to evict them, and Manatee (County), apparently, they say three days.” Attorney Matt Martell, who’s now representing Johnston, says the 3-day residency rule is not a law on the books, but rather a policy local law enforcement seems to have adopted. “The law is clear, it’s crystal clear. If you invite someone in, then you univite them, they have to leave. And if they don’t, it’s considered a criminal trespass, and if someone else lives in that house, it’s a first degree misdemeanor. It’s a matter of enforcing the law that is already on the books, rather than continuing to promote this local custom that if somebody stays in our house for 2 days, 3 days, whatever, we’re going to make that person evict them.”

This is why charity is best left to the state. It’s unreasonable to expect the kindly Margaret Johnston to help those in poverty by opening up her home and exposing herself to the machinations of these punks who won’t leave. A compassionate and wealthy society doesn’t relegate people to living on the streets, but it doesn’t require individual citizens to act as Johnston did.

Then again, I’m sure states other than Florida don’t end up punishing their Good Samaritans like this.

When does a houseguest become a tenant? [WWSB]


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