The Washington Post - November 27, 1987
'A Right to Live on the Sidewalk ? '
Once again the winter winds whip armchair philosophers into debate: Should we or shouldn't we assume street people are nuts?
George Will, walking the dangerous tightrope of devil's advocacy, says even if we "pretend that all people sleeping in filth and foul weather are as sane as sages . . . there can be no reasonable right to live on sidewalks . . . [because] society needs order and hence has a right to a minimally civilized ambience" ["A Right to Live on the Sidewalks?" op-ed, Nov. 19].
God, help us. We don't need to slide backward into economic apartheid. What we need is practical solutions to Immediate problems facing the houseless manyŚnow.
Street dwellers have a continuing problem that becomes life-threatening when weather turns cold: they must cart all their personal belongings with them wherever they go. If they walk away from their possessions, they lose them to security guards, janitors and thieves.
In Lafayette (Peace) Park, I've often seen U.S. Park Police officers take coats and blankets away from impoverished people standing only a couple of yards away, accusing them of abandoning their property under a 1986 federal regulation that was written to confine demonstrators Within three feet of signs.
Keeping clean is another problem. Public restrooms are locked at night public baths are nonexistent.
Here's what street dwellers need today to ensure "a minimally civilized ambience" and day-to-day survival: lockers near soup kitchens; public restrooms; baths and laundry facilities; free transportation; Adopt-a-homeless projects by the 1,000-plus churches, schools, clubs and community groups in the area; blankets, coats, boots, mittens and rain gear.
These ideas aren't new. I wrote about them in The Post's Close to Home section January 1986. It's time we Implement them.
Let's avoid police-state repression and help the unfortunate bring order to their lives.
ELLEN THOMAS Washington