No Safe Place: Criminalization of Homelessness Rises In Cities Across U.S.

Search form

No Safe Place: Criminalization of Homelessness Rises In Cities Across U.S.

No Safe Place: Criminalization of Homelessness Rises In Cities Across U.S.
Tue, 7/22/2014 - by Scott Keyes
This article originally appeared on Think Progress

A new study has found that ordinances effectively making homelessness a crime, such as sitting on the sidewalk, are increasing across the country.

The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty has tracked laws in 187 cities since 2009 to study the spread of measures that criminalize homelessness. The latest report, released last Wednesday, found an uptick in nearly every type of different criminalization ordinance.

These anti-homeless laws can take a number of different forms. Fort Lauderdale recently moved to make it illegal for homeless people to have possessions with them, while Honolulu is considering a law to criminalize sitting or lying down on sidewalks.

Last year, Tampa passed a new law to make it illegal to sleep in public and Palo Alto adopted a measure to prohibit homeless people from sleeping in their cars, for instance.

Of the 187 cities NLCHP looked at, here are how the various measures to criminalize homelessness have changed:

Laws prohibiting “camping” in public

34 percent of cities impose city-wide bans on camping in public, an increase of 60 percent since 2011.

57 percent of cities prohibit camping in particular public places, an increase of 16 percent since 2011.

Laws prohibiting sleeping in public

18 percent of cities impose city-wide bans on sleeping in public, unchanged since 2011.

27 percent of cities prohibit sleeping in particular public places, such as in public parks, a decrease of 34 percent since 2011.

Laws prohibiting begging in public

24 percent of cities impose city-wide bans on begging in public, an increase of 25 percent since 2011.

76 percent of cities prohibit begging in particular public places, an increase of 20 percent since 2011.

Laws prohibiting loitering, loafing, and vagrancy

33 percent of cities make it illegal to loiter in public throughout an entire city, an increase of 35 percent since 2011.

65 percent of cities prohibit the activity in particular public places.

Laws prohibit sitting or lying down in public

53 percent of cities prohibit sitting or lying down in particular public places, a decrease of 3 percent since 2011.

Laws prohibiting sleeping in vehicles

43 percent of cities prohibit sleeping in vehicles, an increase of 119 percent since 2011.

Laws prohibiting food sharing

9 percent of cities prohibit sharing food with homeless people.

The NLCHP report criticized cities for violating homeless people’s basic rights. “Courts have invalidated or enjoined enforcement of criminalization laws on the grounds that they violate constitutional protections,” the report said, “such as the right to freedom of speech under the First Amendment, freedom from cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment, and the right to due process of law guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.”

These laws also make little sense from a fiscal standpoint. A recent study in one Florida county found that local taxpayers had spent more than $5 million over the last decade to repeatedly jail just 37 homeless people for quality-of-life offenses. In fact, a separate study showed that, when accounting for criminalization and hospitalization, leaving homeless people on the streets is over three times more expensive than simply giving them a place to live.

Finally, the report notes, criminalization is an ineffective approach for the simple fact that it does “nothing to address the underlying causes of homelessness.” These laws do not provide housing to poor people, or help alcoholics with their disease, or provide childcare to struggling parents. They simply trap homeless people in a cycle that criminalizes their very existence.

For example, ThinkProgress profiled a homeless veteran living in south Florida, Franklin, who was recently ticketed for breaking a law that makes it illegal to ask motorists for money on highway exit ramps. Because Franklin didn’t have any money to pay off the $64.50 citation, he was faced with a tragic choice: break the very same law again in order to try to amass enough money to cover the fine, or go to jail.

NLCHP’s report calls on the federal government to combat local efforts to criminalize homelessness in a few different ways. First, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Justice could send less grant money to municipalities that pass such laws. Second, the United States Interagency Council on Homeless should “publicly oppose specific local criminalization measures,” a move they have been reticent to do. NLCHP also recommended state governments pass and enforce bills enacting a Homeless Bill of Rights — as Connecticut, Illinois, and Rhode Island have done — to prohibit local criminalization ordinances.

Originally published by Think Progress

Article Tabs

Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, plutocracy, corporatocracy, Occupy Democrats, wealth inequality, money in politics

Money is speech and dollars have more influence than people. It's time to be honest about the plutocracy we live in.

By ordering protesters to leave the entire Wall Street area, police violated protesters’ First Amendment right to carry their message directly to its intended recipients: the Wall Street bankers who bankroll climate change, a judge ruled.

Greek debt crisis, Syriza, anti-austerity movement, austerity policies, Podemos

Blackmail is an understatement of what the Troika is doing to Greece, where European authorities are using dirty tactics to bring the Mediterranean country to heel.

There’s now an easy solution for all student debtors who are locked into a lifetime of debt with ever-increasing interest: Become a Christian and move to Indiana. Hallelujah!

Student occupations are spreading across the U.K., ignited by Occupy LSE, a student-staff takeover that began on March 17 at the London School of Economics.

Indigenous women make up 4.3% of Canada's female population – but represent almost half of the number of women murdered in the country.

Posted 5 days 8 hours ago

In this week’s episode of Act Out!, Eleanor talks clowns, burning cars and the riots against austerity in Europe, while looking at the role of art in activism and giving you some tools to get started.

Posted 6 days 16 hours ago
healthcare privatization, National Health Service, Cancer Not for Profit, 38 Degrees

Last week saw the biggest leak in the history of the U.K. National Health Service, with the publication of a document that revealed clinical commissioning groups were looking for a private company to accept a £1.2 billion contract for cancer care.

Posted 6 days 16 hours ago
water wars, California drought, water barons, Western Growers, California breadbasket, Primary Water Institute, underground water reserves, underground water regulations, primary water

It’s no longer just the farmers against the ranchers or the urbanites – it’s the people against the new “water barons” like Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Monsanto and the Bush family, who are buying up global water at unprecedented pace.

Posted 5 days 8 hours ago

Indigenous women make up 4.3% of Canada's female population – but represent almost half of the number of women murdered in the country.

American Legislative Exchange Council, ALEC, BP, climate change denial

Oil company BP said on Monday it has stopped supporting conservative political group ALEC, becoming the latest corporation to end its membership in a group critics say works to deny the existence of climate change.

In this week’s episode of Act Out!, Eleanor talks clowns, burning cars and the riots against austerity in Europe, while looking at the role of art in activism and giving you some tools to get started.

prison divestment campaign, criminal justice reform, Columbia Prison Divest, Corrections Corporation of America, GEO Group, Dream Defenders, incarceration rates, Student Alliance for Prison Reform

Columbia Prison Divest pressured the university to dump $8 million in Corrections Corporation of America, the country’s largest private prison company, as well as shares in other behemoths of the private security industry.

Sign Up