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Jewish World Review Dec. 6, 1999 /27 Kislev, 5760

Don Feder

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Hillary's knee jerks for the homeless -- A FEW WEEKS AGO, Gov. George W. Bush was tarred and feathered for not knowing the name of the leader of Chechnya -- as if anyone outside the media actually cares.

When it comes to the headaches the homeless have caused urban dwellers, Hillary Rodham Clinton is clueless about a real issue.

After a woman in midtown Manhattan was hit in the head by a panhandler wielding a 6-pound paving stone -- requiring brain surgery to save her life -- New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani (Hillary's likely opponent next year) ordered police to round up denizens of the heating grates who refuse to go to shelters in the evening.

Hillary is highly indignant. "Criminalizing the homeless with mass arrests for those whose only offense is that they have no home is wrong," the first lady bleated last week.

She went on to observe that the season upon us celebrates "the birth of a homeless child" (as related in the Epistle of Saint Jesse to the Rainbow Coalition?). Mary and Joseph had a home in Nazareth, Hillary. They were temporarily in Bethlehem for a tax census, a project your husband would approve of.

Dear Hillary never rides the subways alone. When she ventures onto the sidewalks of New York, it's in the company of men with guns.

As a result, Ms. Rodham has never had to step over a comatose man reeking of booze and urine. She's never been menaced by a hulking brute demanding spare change. She's never had to run the gauntlet of some maniac screaming on a street corner as she wended her way home in the evening.

Hillary's life has been isolated and hermetically sealed for so many years that she wouldn't know reality if it sat next to her at a fund-raising dinner. Her creative solution to homelessness? "Triple the number of new (federal) housing vouchers."

What makes Clinton think that people who refuse to go to shelters in sub-zero temperatures will willingly move into apartments? "She's spouting the sort of advocates' humbug nobody has believed for a decade," says Myron Magnet, editor of the Manhattan Institute's City Journal.

Magnet observes: "The homeless are engaged in self-destructive behavior (substance abuse) -- that's how they got to be homeless -- or they're mentally ill and can't take care of themselves. Housing isn't the problem; behavior or psychosis is."

As many as two-thirds of the homeless are alcoholics, addicts or mentally incompetent. Does Hillary really believe she's doing the homeless a favor by allowing them to sleep outdoors in the dead of winter -- thus exercising their constitutional right to reside in the city morgue?

The welfare of these unfortunates isn't the only consideration. After announcing his haul-'em-in policy, Giuliani told a caller on his weekly radio show: "You don't have a right to sleep on the streets of New York City."

It's the hard-working, overburdened taxpayers of New York who pay for those streets, not the homeless who've tried to turn them into Campgrounds of America.

Does Hillary understand that the normal have rights, too? A right not to be harassed? A right to have their sidewalks used as intended? A right to physical safety? A right not to have their heads caved in with 6-pound rocks?

It was Hillary's knee-jerk, civil libertarian friends who created the homeless crisis through deinstitutionalization. "Oh, these poor mental patients, we must release them from snake-pit asylums," they insisted. "They're not dangerous. We have no right to detain them."

Most of them aren't dangerous. Some certainly are.

The FBI doesn't keep statistics on the number of crimes committed by the homeless. But four years ago, a young woman was brutally raped by two homeless men on the Boston Common. A year earlier, an 80-year-old New York grandmother was beaten to death with a lead pipe by a street psycho.

(Others of the homeless have themselves been victimized by goons who prey on the defenseless.)

But belligerent or benign, few of the homeless can fend for themselves. The ACLU types threw them on the streets with predictable results.

For a crisis liberalism created, Hillary has the perfect liberal solution (more federal spending) and the standard liberal objection to efforts to ensure public safety(it violates constitutional rights).

It's great to see Hillary alienating the middle class this way. She might as well wear a name tag that reads, "Hi, I'm a hopeless ideologue -- and I want to be your senator."

JWR contributing columnist Don Feder's latest book is Who's Afraid of the Religious Right. Comment on his column by clicking here.

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©1999, Creators Syndicate