"Homeless" is one of those marshmallow modern euphemisms people use these days to avoid saying something real -- a bit like saying "wetlands" when what you're talking about is a swamp; or "investment" when what you're talking about is government spending; or that you "need resources" when what you're after is a handout.
We didn't used to describe people who sleep on the street as "homeless" -- we'd call them what they were: bums and tramps and vagrants. "Homeless" suggests that fate has swooped down and overnight swept away home, fortune and sacred honour from those unfortunate few who just wake up one morning and find themselves "sleeping rough." It takes away responsibility from the "homeless" for their own choices that saw them end up on the street.
That said, it's not right at all to arrest people for something as essentially harmless as putting a sleeping bag on a footpath, as Auckland City Council Community Services Committee chairman Paul Goldsmith would like to do. Goldsmith (who to fit on his full job title must have a business card bigger than a vagrant's backpack) says that mattresses on footpaths, puddles of urine and people behaving offensively, especially near Aotea Square in the central city is "unacceptable." To him.
He said it was frustrating the council could order people around in all sorts of ways, but could not do anything about the people sleeping on footpaths.
"At the moment the approach seems to be that we can't do anything.
"You can't just stick a cafe on the footpath, but it seems you can stick a mattress on the footpath and leave it there until 9.30 in the morning and make the place look a mess."
Notes Radio NZ: He says "council is determined to improve the situation," and "is not ruling out the possibility of arresting vagrants."
Well, yes, it is "frustrating," but this is not Singapore or China. This is Aotea Square, not Tiananmen Square. Some of us think it's enormously immoral, not to say frustrating, that small-arsed sawdust caesars like Mr Bloody Goldsmith and his committee have the power to "order people around in all sorts of ways." Some of think that a few mattresses would be a small price to pay for getting rid of a few jobsworths as offensive to freedom as he and his ilk.
As long as the bums neither neither break my leg nor pick my pocket, then the long arm of the law (and of Mr Goldsmith's proto-fascist committee) should leave them the hell alone.
In any case, perhaps Mr Goldsmith might reflect (if he ever does such a thing) that he is looking at this backwards. Perhaps his little committee could take up their own beds and get the hell out of the way so people could stick a cafe on the footpath -- giving cafe and shop owners an interest and some power in keeping their frontage clean and secure.
Perhaps he could realise that this problem always existed, but only became evident when the City Mission moved its soup kitchen to its latest location, almost on Aotea Square, and since the council started spending its valuable time harassing shop owners (whose footpaths these should be) instead of working on their behalf.
Perhaps he could recognise too that arresting people simply because "the authorities" don't like them is not the free society some of us would like to inhabit -- there's nothing wrong with beggars on the street (and it's true that many of them like the life), but there's a lot wrong with arresting beggars for being there, and with the buggers who'd like to lock them up.
Perhaps Mr Goldsmith might understand that in places like London, for example, where the problem is much greater, shop owners and small businesses frequently "adopt" their vagrants, giving them a cup of tea and a sandwich in the morning when opening up for business before shooing them off for the day. There was one such tramp who in winter used to sleep at the front door of our construction company in Shepherd's Bush, and on some mornings when our building sites were short-handed, all he had to do quite literally was stand up to get a job. But he couldn't do it. The very idea of work repelled him. Arresting him for his choice would have helped nobody, but a cuppa and a sandwich and a small broom made "our" tramp just another part of life in the big city.
Auckland is a big city, Mr Goldsmith, not your feudal fiefdom. Perhaps you should remember that.
Here's Christy Moore, with 'Go, Move, Shift.'