Greg Schiller wanted to help homeless people in his area, so last winter he opened up his garage to them as a place to sleep during cold nights. Then an EMT informed him that he wasn't allowed to house people in his garage.
So this winter, Schiller decided to throw "slumber parties" in his basement during cold nights, offering food, beverages, cots, and movies. Schiller said he didn't permit drugs or alcohol in his residence.
The government of Elgin, Illinois, where Schiller lives, didn't like this idea either.
Police officers and city officials showed up at Schiller's home with a warrant Tuesday and inspected the unfinished basement. They then claimed its ceiling was too low and its windows were too high and too small to exit through them. According to Schiller, they told him to shut down his operation and turn his basement back into storage within 24 hours or they would condemn the house.
"While we appreciate those who volunteer to provide additional resources in the community," city spokesperson Molly Center said in a statement, "Mr. Schiller's house does not comply with codes and regulations that guard against potential dangers such as carbon monoxide poisoning, inadequate light and ventilation, and insufficient exits in the event of a fire."
The Elgin crackdown is a predictable escalation of a nanny-state culture that's popular at all levels of government. Centering government action around safety (from drugs, from Kinder eggs, from sledding, from whatever) invites that action into our personal spaces—even if, as in this case, the result is to make people less safe. Which is more likely: that a homeless man will die in Schiller's basement, or that he'll die sleeping in the cold?