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The Libertarian

Vin Suprynowicz

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One Natalie Unzueta wrote in, recently:

“On Sunday Feb. 18 I among 200 others camped out in front of the legislature in Carson City in order to support Bill 126 (which) proposes that 20 million dollars of the budget be set aside for homeless services and transitory housing ... over a two year period. It was extremely cold in Carson City and it even snowed that night. It was one night that we all got to experience what thousands of real homeless have to experience every night.

“Homeless is not a decision and it is not always the persons fault. There are many reasons that one becomes homeless. The city of Las Vegas is known for extravagance, yet with all of these beautiful hotels around us there is an ugly side that the tourists rarely see. The people sitting around waiting for time to pass by and trying to find a decent place to sleep for the night.

“All anyone wants is a place to call home. A small, humble place that they can go to stay safe and warm from this harsh world. Supporting Assembly Bill 126 will help a lot, not all, with this. A home is a right not a privilege.”


What kind of right is this new “right to a home,” I wonder. From whence does it derive?

Anyone who’s made even a cursory study of our American “Bill of Rights” knows this popular moniker for our first 10 Constitutional amendments isn’t quite accurate. It’s actually a “Bill of Proscriptions” on government action.

The right to freedom of the press or of religion or to bear arms doesn’t mean the government has to provide each of us with a printing press or a meeting hall or a belt-fed machine gun. It merely says government can’t enact any laws which RESTRICT our ability to do these things for ourselves.

Does Ms. Unzueta merely mean no government goon should ever take away our homes? Does she, perhaps, oppose all property taxes, which can result in men with guns evicting people from their homes so they can be auctioned off to satisfy “back taxes”?

I doubt that. She’s writing to support a bill that would spend an extra $20 million in government money, after all. Government money comes from taxes.

Does she merely mean any one of us has a right to go find some piece of unoccupied, unclaimed desert or forest, dig a well, build a lean-to, and set up housekeeping? I could probably agree with that. But I strongly doubt that’s what she means.

I think she means government agencies should buy or build “homes” for all the hoboes, winos, drifters and street people who want them. Don’t you?

(Once word got out that we were doing that, how many more folks do you think would show up to claim their “free home”? Do you think $20 million would really suffice?)

There are two current methods to do this. Under one such scheme, home builders are blackmailed into making a certain percentage of the homes they build available at “below market rates” for “poor people” specially selected by the government. But those so favored usually end up being young government employees who start out making more than $40,000 when their nice benefit packages are thrown in. Not much help for the street people, there.

Alternatively, Ms. Unzueta likely means to loot even more money from my paycheck and yours -- extending our slavery in violation of the 13th amendment for that one-third to one-half of the year which we sharecrop just to “pay our taxes” -- thus forcing you and me to build nice homes for these lazy drunks and drug addicts.

Does this new “right” extend to color-coordinated kitchen appliances, I wonder? Does the dishwashing machine have to be in working condition?

What if we -- or the home-builders -- refuse to cooperate? Will uniformed men eventually threaten to shoot us? That IS the way government effects its will. If you doubt this, propose that we keep our arms but that government “law enforcement agents” be stripped of theirs. See how far you get.

There are precedents. Shortly after the Bolshevik Revolution, it was not uncommon for well-to-do Russian merchant families to answer a knock at the door and find a party commissar in a big coat standing there with eight or 12 decrepit looking souls and a clipboard. “The People’s Committee on Housing has ruled your house is too big for one family!” the apparatchik in the big fur hat with the little red star would announce. “These comrades are now living with you. To each according to his needs. If they report you’re giving them any trouble, you will be shot. Have a nice day, comrades!”

Is this the kind of method Ms. Unzueta would endorse to fulfill this “right to a home”? Why not? The Legislature in Carson City is not some fairy castle. It’s not sufficient to say, “We’ll use fairy dust. Everyone will volunteer.”

By now, some will be turning to their keyboards to pound out objections to my characterization of shiftless street people -- the ones Ms. Unzueta refers to as “sitting around waiting for time to pass by” -- as “lazy.”

But you know, if I didn’t have a place to sleep for the night, I’m pretty sure rather than “sitting around waiting for time to pass” I’d spend the day trying to earn enough money to rent a room.

As it happens, this is not merely a theoretical construct; someone in my family has actually found himself in this situation.

A few years back, my brother’s father-in-law, Yale-educated Bay Area stage and TV actor Bruce Moody, found himself approaching 60 and out of work. Desperate, he spent the better part of a year standing by the highway with a sign that read “Will work for Food or $.” As a matter of principle, Bruce took work when it was offered -- though he found he usually made more just standing there.

His income from holding that sign often averaged more than $20 per hour, allowing him to keep his middle-class home and his modest middle-class lifestyle by “working” in this manner for a mere six hours per day.

In the end, he wrote a pretty good book about that year, titled “Will Work for Food or $.” You can buy it on Amazon.

That’s why I say most hoboes are either lazy, or prefer that life.

Mayor Oscar Goodman stopped by last Friday. He told me that every week after the City Council meetings he asks if there are any homeless people there who will accept the city’s help to get into transitional housing -- help in finding a job. In all the months he’s been doing this, the mayor said, only one man has ever accepted the offer.

“Yards -- just yards -- away from poverty agencies into which we pour millions and millions of dollars in federal Community Block Grant money, these people are sleeping on the sidewalk,” he says. “You can’t get them to go inside and accept the help,” primarily because that help comes attached to a structured lifestyle, an expectation that they’ll pay back the kindness by cleaning up their acts and seeking gainful employment.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe people have a right to live as bums. I would not want to live in a nation which rounded up such souls and sent them to locked-gate “work camps” for the “crime” of indigence.

But freedom works both ways. The fact that I or others may pity them and voluntarily try to help them by donating to some charity imposes no duty on me; it does not mean they have a “right” to any part of my income or the contents of my grocery bag. Charity is a grace only because it’s voluntary.

Only one person has a “right” to determine how the fruits of my labors will be distributed. Me. Take away that right, and you know what I’ll do? I’ll insist that the government steal part of your earnings to feed ME.

That’ll work, won’t it? How’s it working out for the Bolsheviks?