Thursday, November 30, 2006

Fairfax County - The New Nanny State

Those of us who follow government pretty closely pretty quickly get used to stupidity being something of a normative principle that guides political bureaucracy. Government idiocy is similar to what Al Bundy once said about yard sale junk - there's lots of idiocy, but eventually, you get to the head idiot. In my book, Fairfax County is now seriously contending for this dubious distinction.

Yesterday, the Washington Post reported on the implementation of a new regulation imposed by the County on volunteer organizations and churches when it comes to providing food for the County's homeless population. From now on, all food served in shelters and church kitchens must be 'County-approved', meaning that the shelter and kitchen must be inspected and certified by the County before it can fry a single egg for a homeless person. This goes for meals prepared at home by compassionate citizens as well. The County's list of requirements for certification is steep, and is likely to shut down any number of food kitchen operations designed to feed the homeless. Tom Crow, the County's health bureaucrat, was quoted as saying that this measure is designed to look out for the health of the homeless, and that such a measure is not heavy-handed government.

I just finished writing a Letter to the Editor to the Post that says this:

Fairfax County's inane decision to insert itself into the volunteer safety net of providing for the County's homeless population (Metro, 11/29) is nannyism run amok - again. The idea that County oversight of food preparation and cooking facilities is an absolutely necessary ingredient for 'protecting' the homeless has no connection with reality at all. The logistical problems and red tape that the County's intrusion causes greatly handcuff the volunteer efforts of those who are looking out for the underprivileged. The fact that the County has unleashed itself on its own citizenry on the eve of the winter season when the homeless are acutely in need is a 'delicious' irony.

Tom Crow insists that handcuffing volunteerism helps the homeless, and that such handcuffing should not be perceived as heavy-handed government. I guess it's nice to know that the people who were apparently behind this action are as out of touch with reality as the action itself. I suspect such consistency will be little consolation to the homeless in the County who have to go back to the dumpsters to find food, rather than risk eating a hot meal cooked in a church kitchen. To put it nicely, the County's decision couldn't be more backwards.

My guess is that this Letter will not be published by the Post because I didn't succeed very well in hiding my outrage over what the County is doing. We must realize that the County is insisting on levels of sanitation that many middle and upper class house kitchens wouldn't pass. But the County is telling its volunteers that when it comes to providing for the most vulnerable segment of the County's population, they must have something close to a 4 Star kitchen, or stop volunteering - the homeless be damned.

For my part, I would strongly advocate that everybody in County government that was involved in this wretched decision be placed on a 2 week probation period. During this period, they will be deprived of their homes, their jobs, their income, their savings, and any friends or relatives who would be willing to take them in. For 2 weeks, let these bozos live on the street with no money, food, or shelter, and then give them the courtesy of being turned away from a homeless shelter or church kitchen by some very nice person who says the shelter can't feed them because the County thinks it's looking out for the homeless' interests better than the volunteers who are actually doing the work and donating the time.

The level of idiocy is truly breathtaking and would be a great late-night object of joking if it wasn't so completely tragic. Welcome to Fairfax County, the new capital of the Nanny State.


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