Pizza shop owner takes on huge fines to continue letting homeless man live behind his store
"Either you kick him down the road until somebody complains—and then he gets kicked down the road again—or you deal with it."
When Eric Weber, owner of The Slice in Evansville, Indiana, discovered that a man had been sleeping in a tent next to the dumpster behind his pizza restaurant, he had basically two choices: make him go or let him stay.For Weber, the decision to let the man continue living behind his shop was an easy one. “I know it’s wrong just to kick a poor homeless guy down the street when you can provide care for him just as easily as anybody else can,” he told local CBS and Fox News affiliate 44News Evansville.
It’s not like Weber hasn’t attempted other solutions. He told the outlet that he had tried reaching out to other organizations to help for years, but always came upon dead ends. Knowing that forcing the man to leave would likely only cause more instability and worsen the situation, Weber felt like letting him stay was the only way to do the right thing.
"Either you kick him down the road until somebody complains—and then he gets kicked down the road again—or you deal with it," Weber said.
The city’s planning commission, however, seems to feel differently. According to the institution, the man’s tent represents a structure that violates a city ordinance for land use. The fine for this type of offense starts at $500 and exponentially increases each day afterward. In less than a week, the fine will surge to over $7,000 a day.
Weber, who has already been given the initial fine, is determined to continue helping the man and feels that the commission's values are misaligned.“If you’re looking at the greater good in this situation—the aesthetics of the alley and taking care of a homeless person—which one makes more sense?” Weber said.
More than 580,000 people experienced homelessness in the United States on any given day in 2022, according to the 2022 Annual Homelessness Assessment Report. The issue might be more prevalent in large cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York, but states nationwide have seen a visible increase in homelessness within the last decade, particularly due to the rising cost of housing…what little housing is available, that is.
As the challenges facing homeless communities become more visible, cities are making better incremental efforts to help. Lawmakers in Oregon, for example, have proposed a bill that would decriminalize homeless camps and allow unhoused people to sue if they are forced to leave. Other towns are building "tiny home villages" to help clear out homeless encampments on the street.
Though Weber isn’t waiting around for help to do what he feels is right, he said that his own city has the means to provide better solutions for helping the man and others who are struggling. "If you give him food and water and a basic-shelter situation, it seems to me it could be done in an economical fashion that makes sense, and I definitely think the city could do it."
Hopefully, Weber will not have to pay the price for having compassion.
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