When Your Existence is Illegal
What do you do when just existing is illegal? It’s a pretty tough existence when you know that your everyday routine, like sleeping, sitting down when you’re tired, or using the bathroom, breaks the law. What’s the point of trying to keep your criminal record clean when it seems like a pretty fruitless venture?
By definition, being homeless (i.e.: not having a private residence to sleep in) is illegal in our city. In 2005 Austin enacted a “no sit, no lie” law, making it illegal to sit or lie anywhere in city limits. Now, no matter how hard someone is trying to pull themselves out of homelessness, they are at risk for being ticketed or arrested for no other reason than existing. If someone doesn’t have a home to go to at the end of the night, a cop might just wake him or her up with a $500 ticket in his hand.
Question: How do you pay a $500 “illegal camping” ticket when you don’t have any money?
Answer: You don’t.
You might show up to court to fight it. The judge might have some sense and dismiss it. But he might not. You may have to do some community service instead of paying. But you might end up with a warrant for arrest on your record since $500 is quite a bit of money, especially for someone who is homeless.
Knowing that your existence is illegal is powerfully destructive. It can quickly destroy your sense of worth, your hope for a better tomorrow, and your respect for the law. With the crushing weight of this thought bearing down on a person, it’s clear they need a community and a gospel which both bring a message of grace, support, and compassion.
When the whole world is mumbling “worthless” in disgust as they walk by with averted eyes, we, the hands and feet of Christ, must embrace them in love and shout “worthy.”