Whatever happened to southern hospitality?

Despite its warm climate, the South is becoming more and more unwelcoming to those without a roof over their heads. Consider recent legislation passed by Ft. Lauderdale, Florida:

…so far this year, it has passed two such laws, one making it illegal to urinate in public and another serving notice that any belongings left unattended on public property can be confiscated. More are pending, including one that would make it hard for charities to serve meals to the homeless in public spaces. [The Independent]

Other southern cities, such as Birmingham, Alabama, have also pressed for legislation that would make it illegal to publicly distribute food to the homeless. Laws like these are usually posed as gestures at “helping” the homeless, but they are the sort of “tough love” that is heavy on the toughness and palpably light on the love.

While the law’s supporters might really believe police action against homeless people is a sure way to improve their circumstances, the intent of anti-homeless legislation is almost always to clear out unwanted people for the sake of consumers.

Now, begging could very well be a real problem for tourism or retailers. But instead of businesses encouraging local governments to devote more resources to providing alternatives for people without consistent shelter, they place a particular set of claims on whose interests should control public space.

The end result isn’t just a devastating blow to homeless people — it is also a dangerous incursion of the private, for-profit sector into what should be thought of as the common good. Worse yet, local governments are proving complicit in this process of domination-by-the-strong.

Multiple definitions of ‘the common good’ exist, as the idea of a corporate human good has existed since the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle. More recent iterations arise from political philosophers like John Rawls and from Catholic social teaching; continuity between secular and religious conceptions of the common good is, however, fairly consistent. In short, the common good is a set of circumstances which provides for the flourishing — intellectual, emotional, physical, and social — of all people, regardless of their social standing.

Read more: How America lost interest in the common good

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