As homelessness has grown in the United States over the past two decades, so have laws that essentially criminalize those who have no home. In a misguided attempt to
grapple with the phenomenon of people living on our streets, city governments have passed laws that make it illegal to sit, sleep and eat in public spaces. These laws
criminally penalize our poor and homeless neighbors merely for the fact that they have no place else to go.
Laws that criminalize homelessness are not only an inhumane way to treat some of our most vulnerable neighbors, but they frequently pose constitutional problems and do
nothing to address the underlying causes of homelessness. Many of these measures have been successfully challenged in court as violations of homeless persons’ civil rights.
In addition, these laws that frequently apply to downtown areas have the effect of moving homeless people away from areas where services and other resources are located.
When people are arrested or cited under these laws, they develop criminal records, which make it more challenging for them to find housing or employment.
Further, using the criminal justice system to deal with homelessness is an extremely inefficient use of law enforcement and other resources. In a nine-city survey of supportive housing and jail costs, jail costs were on average two to three times the cost of providing supportive housing—a solution that actually works in ending homelessness.
Read ‘Don’t Feed The Homeless’ by Tulin Ozdeger ~ August 30, 2006
Tulin Ozdeger is a civil rights staff attorney at The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty