Mimesis Law
26 March 2017

The Opposite of Solving the Homelessness Problem

Dec. 23, 2015 (Mimesis Law) — When authorities discovered that someone had constructed a super awesome cave dwelling behind the Fairfax, Virginia police department, they did exactly what you’d expect them to do. They arrested the guy:

A homeless man was arrested Sunday for constructing and living in an underground cave that was dug 15 feet underground in Fairfax, Virginia.

Yosue Joel Rios, 25, dug stairs that descended to two rooms, according to Fairfax Police Department’s Public Information Officer Natalie Hinesley.

“To the left was a small alcove that was a little smaller where we thought he was sleeping. The room to the right was a bit larger from floor to ceiling that was about 5½ feet tall, so you could almost stand up.”

Rios hasn’t told police how long it took to create the cave and how long he lived there.

The place seems to be about the coolest thing ever. It was basically every little kid’s dream: a secret cave suitable for habitation. It was fifteen feet deep, a story below ground, or maybe even two. It had stairs. And an alcove. And a bedroom where the local public information officer might not have been able to stand up, but where a vertically challenged individual like me could have. I dreamed about building something just like it throughout my childhood, but I was no Rios. I suppose I also didn’t have to do it to survive, though.

Not that I’m too surprised, but it would seem that the police weren’t such a big fan of John Locke or his thoughts about creating an interest in property through labor from his Second Treatise on Government. Not many people seem to be. After all, the idea that Rios through his efforts created not just a suitable place, but an amazing place, where he could live by himself might entitle him to some property right in what he’d done is a crazy one these days.

Could you imagine what would happen if we let every homeless person build an amazing hidden cave where he or she could stay warm and safe for an indefinite amount of time without imposing on anyone? Who would the police cite with trespass or urban camping if the homeless are all comfortably tucked away in their homes?

Perhaps the enlightened authorities in Fairfax just want homelessness to stay visible so polite society will constantly dwell on it and do its best to fix it. If not, though, I’m sure he was probably up to no good anyway, and he was probably doing it someplace where innocent private landowners would suffer negative consequences due to his misappropriation.

Oh, wait:

The underground cave was in woods approximately 200 yards behind the Fairfax Police Department. Inside the cave was evidence that Rios not only slept in there but also spent time self-teaching.

Along with sleeping gear and digging tools were educational books and writings on religion, the English language and the United States criminal justice system.

No identification has been found connecting Rios to any school, but a library card was found that is suspected to be the source for his studies.

I’m sure the police loved to stare blankly into those woods from time to time, and I bet it just isn’t the same knowing that some homeless guy might be huddled fifteen feet down someplace, protecting himself from the elements. It’s even worse knowing that said homeless guy might be using his home as a place to better himself, learning the primary language of the country where he’s living as well as the ins and outs of its justice system. How dare he do that? He’s not even a student! I suppose they’ll charge him for illegal use of a library card too. Could you imagine the horrors that would befall society if we went willy-nilly and allowed all homeless people to build homes on unused plots where they worked the land then endeavored to better themselves through education? It would be chaos!

It seems that things went as expected for poor Rios:

Rios has been charged with destruction of property and has an outstanding warrant from Arlington county for failing to appear at court for traffic charges, according to Hinesley.

An emergency public work crew went to the area on Monday to dig out the hole and fill it in to prevent caving or endangering the public.

If Rios was a hardened criminal, police would’ve surely mentioned it. In fact, that the most they are able to say to paint him in a negative light is that he had a traffic warrant speaks volumes.

For the homeless, warrants can be a common thing. No matter what law-and-order-minded folks think, threatening the downtrodden with arrest doesn’t affect their hierarchy of needs. If their options are making a home and fighting to survive versus wasting some time and precious money getting to a hearing where the judge is just going to try to take more money from them, the choice is obvious. Plus, when we arrest homeless people, they get a roof over their heads for a bit. A warrant isn’t the same sort of threat for the homeless as it is for the rest of us. I’ll never forget one late-night initial appearance court I went to on an abnormally cold evening, one where the guards, prosecutor, and judge were all infuriated by the onslaught of homeless people turning themselves in on warrants so they could come in from the cold.

On the other hand, I suppose I can see why authorities might want to fill in the hole. As much as that more than anything bugs the kid in me, it’s probably a pretty attractive danger to local youngsters and anyone else, really. It’s probably not built to code. Still, I hope this ends up working out not just for Rios, but in a way that might help other homeless people too. Near the end, the article dives into some statistics that make me think it might be trying to send just the right sort of message:

According to data provided by the National Alliance to End Homelessness, on a given day over 800 people experience unsheltered homelessness in Virginia in 2015.

There was a 32.5% decrease in unsheltered homelessness in Virginia from 2013-2014 according to Alliance’s report from last year.

About 31% of the homeless population was found in unsheltered locations, according to a census in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s 2015 Annual Homeless Assessment Report.

Sadly, then it just ends. There are no comments about improving the situation, or about how trying to destroy their homes when they build them might not be the best way to keep those unsheltered homeless numbers down. They don’t note that we can add one more to the over 800 people who have experience unsheltered homelessness in Virginia in 2015.

Homelessness is a huge problem, but it’s one that’s more likely to be produced by the sorts of things our justice system is capable of doing rather than helped by them. Rios did something pretty freaking neat. The slippery slope, however, tells us that we can’t just let the homeless squat and develop. They’ll be everywhere, right? Stealing our land? Rios’s situation hints that maybe it might be not be the worst idea, or at the very least not the sort of thing that should result in destruction of property charges for a guy who built a newsworthy home for himself, even if authorities proceeded to fill with dirt shortly after they arrested him.

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