How not to help the homeless

One of the common slurs against libertarianism is that we want poor people to suffer. Sure, we claim to be driven by principled opposition to the leviathan of government, but these critics see through that. They know that in our hearts, libertarians oppose wasteful social programs because we hate poor people. To be fair, that’s probably true for some people who call themselves libertarian. But you know what even the most ardent Ayn Rand worshiper wouldn’t do to poor people?


Starting in about 2006, several cities began arresting, fining, and otherwise oppressing private individuals and nonprofits that feed the homeless and less fortunate. A 2006 NPR report referred to a Las Vegas ban on feeding the homeless—a ban challenged by the Nevada state ACLU chapter—as “among the first of its kind in the country.”

As the ACLU described it:

In 2006, the City of Las Vegas became locked in a bizarre war with homeless advocates, and decided that no one should be engaging in charity in the public parks. The City began ticketing good Samaritans who shared food with more than 24 people, under the belief that giving food to people already in the public park violated statutes requiring permits for gatherings of 25 or more people. When the ACLU of Nevada took issue with this interpretation of permit laws, the City took a more direct approach: it explicitly outlawed the sharing of food with anyone who looked poor…

Other homeless individuals were being kicked out of parks under a questionable trespass policy called “86”ing, where Park Marshals essentially took photographs of certain people – almost always homeless people – who were then kicked out of the public parks on pain of a trespass misdemeanor if they returned. The 86ing process had no paperwork, no right to appeal, and no due process whatsoever.

Libertarians may not like the idea of forcing wealthy people to aid the poor through social programs and taxes, but they certainly wouldn’t try to block homeless people from receiving the voluntary generosity of others. That sort of callous indifference takes a government bureaucrat.

About Mark:
Mark is a computer programmer, website builder, photographer, and sometimes journalist in Chicago, where he also writes the long-running Windypundit blog.
This entry was posted in facepalm, poverty and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.


  1. John David Galt
    Posted June 12, 2012 at 1:07 am | Permalink

    Yes and no. It is certainly legitimate to regard homeless people (not to mention those who fake that status) as a public nuisance and to try to make them stop turning our downtowns ugly. The libertarian, however, would try to do this in more direct ways, such as by privatizing parks and other public spaces, and even the streets; thereby giving the new owners the right to kick them out without it being a civil liberties violation.

    This is not to say that the homeless deserve to suffer. It is to say that the rest of us deserve not to be bothered, and that the homeless are not our problem.

    Certainly a state or country which wasn’t so overregulated or taxed to support a huge welfare state would have a lot more jobs available.

    • Susan
      Posted July 25, 2012 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

      Yes, Mr. Galt. That would be a great way to force black people to the back of the bus again. All we need to do are privatize the buses.

  2. Dale
    Posted June 14, 2012 at 10:13 pm | Permalink

    Not just jobs, we would have robust commerce and liquidity like never before. In that libertarian society, housing would be far less expensive(and so to everything else).

    • Posted June 14, 2012 at 10:47 pm | Permalink

      No kidding, Dale. There are thousands of homeless people in the streets and thousands of empty houses left over from the mortgage mess. How fucked up is that market? Homeless people may be a nuisance, but to the extent that they are genuinely crazy…if anyone deserves a safety net, it’s the mentally ill. First lets cut off bankers and oil companies and ethanol farmers (you know what I mean), then lets free up the housing and job market. Then, if there are enough homeless people left to bother us, we can worry about what to do about them.

  3. Susan
    Posted July 25, 2012 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

    No, you don’t hate poor people, or want them to suffer. But you don’t want your tax money to go towards helping them, which by default would cause them to suffer. According to your philosophy, anything that helps the poor must voluntary in the form of charity, grants, or loans. The problem with this is there are not enough people willing to give their money voluntaripyy (as well as enough money), in order to equal the amount taken involuntarily through taxes. So poor people would suffer more uunder this system.

    • Susan
      Posted July 25, 2012 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

      “Voluntarily” “under”

      My apologies for typos. I’m still getting used to this touchscreen.