Welcome to Fairfield – now please go away…

In its finite and stunningly misguided version of municipal wisdom, the city of Fairfield is trying to stamp out homelessness by ordinance.

And despite truly spectacular failures by such nearby cities as San Francisco (remember the – shudder! – Matrix Program?) Fairfield’s leaders seem to think that criminalizing homelessness will somehow make their community a better place to live.

Shocked by reports of panhandling, public urination and littering by the picturesque beer-brewing community’s less fortunate, city government earlier this month began trying to find a way to make homelessness more difficult while encouraging the needy to leave their temporary camps and “take advantage of social programs…”

The encouragement comes in the form of a proposed ordinance that would make it illegal for anyone to camp or store personal property on a public street, parking lot or in a public area. If approved by the City Council, the ordinance would carry a $100 fine for the first offense. A second violation could result in a maximum fine of $1,000 or six months in county jail.

Hmmmmm, that’s encouraging…

The problem with this kind of simple-minded “C’mon, let’s make a law!” approach is that it rarely works.

Sure, the average citizen is appeased for two or three weeks because city government actually appears to be doing something, but it’s mostly smoke and rhetoric.

This kind of ordinance does nothing to get at the root causes of homelessness – unexpected economic hardship, lack of affordable housing, substance abuse, mental and-or physical disability. They provide neither food nor shelter nor educational guidance. Nor are they much good when it comes to preventing public urination. The latter activity comes pretty much naturally to most folks equipped with a bladder…

All such laws do is make it a little more difficult for the disadvantaged to survive.

They also give already overburdened law enforcement agencies plenty of relatively meaningless tasks to perform on their daily rounds – such as issuing $100 citations to people who might have as much as a dollar in their pockets on any given day.

Of course, if these homeless troublemakers can’t pay the fine, local law enforcement will also have the dubious pleasure of hauling them off to an already overcrowded jail.

County sheriff Rick Hulse is positively going to love this enlightened approach to helping the homeless…

What the city of Fairfield fails to recognize is that homelessness is an ever-present human condition that can’t be cured by simply drafting another painstakingly written piece of legalese.

This is like trying to enact an ordinance against hunger or despair. It may look good on paper but it won’t play on the pavement.

No, what this is all about is encouraging homeless people to take advantage of appropriate social programs…somewhere other than Fairfield.

If you don’t have a four-bedroom home and an SUV, maybe it’s time you took your act down the road where you’ll be less of an eyesore. And don’t even think about urinating in the park before you leave, pal..

Originally published April 22, 2001

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