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A difference between the homeless & illegal immigrants
Dennis Wyatt

Have you ever noticed how there are few – if any – undocumented immigrants among the homeless?

It’s an important observation given how California is gearing up to shovel bullet train loads of money down a rabbit’s hole on the assumption building more housing to get people off the streets is the main place limited taxpayer resources should be invested. It would seem like the logical move, but it isn’t.

At the risk of oversimplifying the problem, the majority of homeless are not mentally ill. What impedes many is substance abuse or the fact they simply don’t want to follow rules so therefore people who might help after a while wash their hands of them. 

The homeless – specifically most adults – and most undocumented immigrants are in the same boat when it comes to being able to afford housing.

Yet when undocumented immigrants are arrested for being in the country illegally they are typically arrested at home or at work. You definitely can’t say that about the homeless.

Eighteen months ago I was at a meal outreach that Inner City Action staged. Community Resource Officer Mike Kelly was talking to two homeless men — one who had recently lost his job and was living in a fairly late model pickup truck and the other at a nearby illegal campsite.

During the conversation they volunteered how much monthly income they had from various sources whether it was disability, drawing early on a pension, unemployment, or general assistance. Neither had enough money to rent a place on their own but between them they could afford to secure a place. Kelly, who works with nonprofits that have a small network of landlords working with them to get homeless off the streets that they can vouch for, suggested they go in together to get a place. Neither one appeared to be a substance abuser. Their response was essentially they didn’t want to have anyone tell them what to do and they didn’t want to live with someone else.

Now compare that to undocumented immigrants where one or more families will share a home with a legal resident of this country and do whatever they can to support themselves and their families. They will sometimes sleep five or six to a room.

The vast majority of undocumented individuals go out of their way not to attract attention to themselves or run afoul with the law. Yes, they are breaking the law by being in this country without permission and yes, they are breaking the law when they work as they cannot produce documentation that they are legally here. But other than that, the overwhelming majority strive to keep their proverbial noses clean so they can work to support their families as well as themselves.

Can you make the same statement about the homeless?

While there are those that get on the streets due purely to financial setbacks, you don’t see most of them stay there long unless they have an albatross around their neck either in the form of substance abuse or attitude.

The undocumented, meanwhile, most often take jobs no one else wants. Even though they are here illegally they contribute to the country’s bottom line. Say that about the guy in a drug-stupor hangover sitting on the curb in front of a 7-Eleven panhandling to pay for his next high.

Yes, we are investing tax dollars in endeavors to help undocumented individuals. There needs to be a limit on such generosity while at the same there needs to be a clear path to citizenship for those who are undocumented and are working. Those that opt not to pursue citizenship after a set time should expect the full wrath of the Immigration & Customs Enforcement Agency to come down on them.

Meanwhile the hardcore homeless use the Constitution to its legal fullest so they can do their own thing at the public’s expense and often on the taxpayer’s dime. That said, there are no absolute rights as they are tempered by the fact 320 million of us have to live together.

You have the right to work to better yourself isn’t a 100 percent right as there are illegal livelihoods as well as laws that temper the workplace and such that are designed not to encourage chaos, slave labor or labor being taken advantage of by others.

Do you have the right to have others provide housing for you? It could be made a law as government now funds free and subsidized housing programs but such generosity is rooted in the political system and not the constitution.

It’s a major stretch to interpret wording in the Constitution that suggests free government housing is a right.

Yet that is where the myopic bureaucracy is steering the vast amount of homeless funds to instead of expanding successful homeless resource centers.

Given it costs on the north side of $200,000 to build basic small apartments for the homeless in California, the money won’t go far with almost all of it being gobbled up by Los Angeles or the Bay Area.

Maybe we should look at what works for undocumented immigrants who arrive in this country with little money and no means of support for the answer. They manage to feed, clothe and shelter themselves without taking over city sidewalks, defecating in public or panhandling for drugs and alcohol so they can get wasted instead of working.

This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt and does not necessarily represent the opinion of Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.