The Least of These

The owner of this antique gallery in New York has some unwanted neighbors: three homeless people who have taken up residence on the heating grate in front of his store. Their presence drives away customers, the merchant claims.

Now I can understand this is not good for business. What I don't get is his solution, which is to file a $1 million lawsuit against the homeless men.

Michael Zen, a lawyer for Kemp, said that since 2004 the shop owner contacted police, who came and shooed the transients away, and the manager of the building, requesting the hot air flowing out of the heating duct be rerouted.

"Filing the suit wasn't our first instinct," Zen said. "Mr. Kemp's business has been interfered with. We want these people to move on. Unfortunately, it has come to this."

The attorney doesn't say what their first instinct was. What we know from the news stories is that they 1) called the police and 2) filed suit. Now, this may come as a shock to some people, but it really IS POSSIBLE to solve problems like this WITHOUT getting the government or courts involved. There are numerous organizations that try to help homeless people find better places to live.

Even more disturbing is the level of support the shop owner is getting from New Yorkers. Clearly people are frustrated at being confronted with these poor souls, many of whom are mentally ill. The answer, however, is not to pretend they don't exist. Nor is it to sweep them under the rug so we don't have to look at them. We have to help them. If this case reminds a few people of this obligation, it may turn out for the best.

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