Ogden officials seem to have a "move-on" mentality when it comes to that city's homeless population, providing a sharp contrast to policies in Salt Lake and other areas.

The men who enforce the policies have recently been depicted in an Ogden paper as heroes as they go about their work:"They took apart and burned two camps, throwing the rocks from fire rings into the river and burning all clothing, lumber and any furniture."

Ron Spurgeon, assistant director of St. Ann's Center, which shelters the homeless from October through April, said the bulldozing and blanket burnings have created problems - and raise ethical issues as well.

"We've got a small task force intent on burning and destroying. We shouldn't have that kind of thing in this country," he said. "Certainly not from our police."

Most of the time, the police don't refer the homeless and poor to available services, he said, but rather encourage them to move to other cities (Salt Lake City is a favorite because it is close and generally more compassionate).

This "encouragment" takes the form of destroying their property, rousting them from public places, citing them whenever possible, and generally making life miserable. Periodically, officers use a bulldozer to raze and bury anything that hasn't been burned.

"Word gets around," Spurgeon said, "and people do move on. They go where they aren't treated so poorly."

Over many years and in many ways, we have been assured that "the poor are always with us." Recently, they've been with us in greater than normal numbers.

A few years ago, most of them seemed to be substance abusers or mentally ill. Or both.

Increasingly, though, the ranks of the homeless include entire families. And they aren't necessarily the lazy and undereducated, the addicted and the ill.

A shocking number are what my grandpa would have called "regular Joes" who, because of bad luck or economic downturns, have lost jobs and slowly depleted savings until they could no longer pay the rent or the mortgage on the house.

They are a grim reminder that a great many Americans - the very mainstream portions, in fact - are about three paychecks away from the street.

Communities across the country are responding to the problem by improving transient shelters. St. Anne's is moving to a better facility, despite some grumbling from businesses in the new area.

Reaction to placement of any group home or shelter is entirely predictable, whether it's for the poor or the mentally ill or the retarded or whatever.

Everyone agrees the place is needed. But no one wants it in his neighborhood. Sort of a "we love you, but go away" reaction.

Salt Lake City is very lucky.

The mayor, businessmen who aren't wild about having a shelter in their neighborhood, shelter proponents, officials, and interested citizens have, at least to some extent, worked together to solve the problems that occur anywhere you have a homeless population.

And while they haven't always agreed, they have pooled their ideas and accomplished some good without resorting to brute strength and pyromania. They have generally worked within the system.

Which is why the lauding of destructive acts in Ogden really bothers me. Such acts can become "the system."

In such a system, you don't solve homelessness. You just move it around, like the ball under the shell in the old shell game.

The homeless are not being helped to regain control of their lives or improve their lot - they're just being encouraged to take it on the road. Nothing is fixed, it's just transplanted. And the problem, completely unchecked, continues to grow.

Worst of all, it's inhumane.

And despite the lack of a permanent roof overhead, the homeless are people with basic needs, desires and rights. Rights guaranteed not only by the laws of the land, but by standards of decency and ethics.

In the end, it may come down to a question of morals. But I think the best cities - and the cities which are closest to reducing, maybe even solving part of the homeless problem - are those that can say, "If we erred, we erred on the side of compassion."