A few days ago, it was reported by the BBC that a homeless man was jailed in Belfast, Northern Ireland for begging. He couldn’t pay a fine of £80, so they jailed him.
The district judge refused to give him a conditional discharge saying he had two other begging convictions and that it was clear they had not deterred him.
Look. I don’t know what things are like in Belfast for the homeless, but I am pretty hip to the fact that if a country or city’s priorities are geared towards making the homeless unseen by the housed rather than actually, you know, helping them maintain a lifestyle that is healthy, sanitary and safe, there’s probably not that many options for the homeless other than begging. For all that people like to point to homeless shelters, they’re not an option for many because of the waiting lists, lack of food/enough food/necessary food (for example, Aslan couldn’t go to shelters for food because it was all infested with dairy, to which zie is deadly allergic), an almost total absence of dignity and safety.
Very few people who recommend shelters know, or are willing to consider, the fact that you’re more at risk for rape and theft from the shelter staff than from the other shelter-ees. I’m not even touching the Mission belief that the homeless are homeless because they’re not Christians or not good enough Christians, and that making someopne who is starving and/or freezing to death listen to a sermon before they “deserve” to not starve and/or freeze is just. UnChristian and unacceptable by any decent standard (i.e. non-Randian) of ethics. And even now, we’re assuming he was able to get access to a shelter or Mission in the first place…
You know, I think there might be a reason that he wasn’t deterred by his convictions, and it’s something you’re fucking evil for faulting someone for: he valued his literal physical survival over the law.
So do I. When the law pits itself against your basic well-being, safety and survival, the law is wrong. End of.
Most people who haven’t been homeless do not understand that concept—that the law cannot physically be followed in many circumstances: in Colorado, U.S., it is actually illegal to sleep anywhere that is not a “private” residence. If you cannot pay for a motel/hotel or camping space, if you do not have a house, if someone with those things does not give you permission to sleep there, you are actually breaking the law. You can’t even sleep in a car you own. The U.S. is more concerned with keeping the homeless out of sight than with anything else, to the point that they are willing to put into place a rule that would violate the Geneva convention on torture if it were inflicted on POWs.
I’ve been there. Let me tell you something: sleep is more important than anything except water. In the hierarchy of basic needs, “sleep” and “water” are at the bottom; then “warmth” and “sanitation”; then “food” and “safety.” No number of laws can deter you from needing these, but it doesn’t seem to stop humans from trying. Like if you really were a good person, you’d find a way to do everything legally, including suddenly becoming magically successful at capitalism (because it’s your choice, after all!).
Uh, no. This is Human Rights 101: capitalism and the comfort of the privileged do not ever negate or come before any human’s survival, and capitalist infrastructure (stores) has no right to prevent humans from ensuring their survival, even if it comes at the cost of a store’s profits. If you think that a store’s “right” to profits comes before a human’s actual right to food and not starving, then congratulations—you don’t even believe in the most basic of human rights. Go to the corner and fucking check yourself.
What they’ve done to this man is criminal. That unnamed judge should be locked up.