Homelessness has become more prevalent across the United States in recent years, especially in major cities like Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. In addition to implementing initiatives like housing and other programs to help manage the homeless population, some cities have been imposing regulations on both homeless individuals and homed citizens, with the hopes of creating substantial progress.
In Fort Lauderdale, FL, a law was passed in 2014 criminalizing “street feeding,” or passerby being able to give food to homeless individuals, as reported by The Atlantic. In the article, Robert Marbut, a consultant for NPR, states that street feeding is “one of the worst things you can do, because it keeps people in homeless status.” Other laws prohibit loitering or sleeping in certain public places, sleeping outside or in cars, and more. If they are found in violation of these laws, homeless individuals are arrested and face bail or fines they cannot pay. The most extreme cases have to led to death, as outlined in the case of Jerome Murdough, as outlined in this article from the Center for American Progress.
These articles speak to the motivations behind putting legal restrictions on homelessness: cities want to move people from outside and encourage them to stay in shelters. They believe that shelters are the best option, which is far from true. The Pew Charitable Trusts detailed a report from the National Law Center that found that in many cities there are not enough beds to house the homeless, and that “74% of the homeless population do not know how to find a place where it is safe and legal for them to sleep.” The National Alliance to End Homelessness found that “On a single night in January 2015, 564,708 people were experiencing homelessness — meaning they were sleeping outside or in an emergency shelter or transitional housing program.” This overlooks a very large portion of the homeless population that is not accounted for via a shelter or other program, conveying that the actual total is much higher. The same organization also breaks down the cost for supporting the homeless: homeless individuals can cost taxpayers over $14,000 per year if they are incarcerated, and emergency shelter beds can cost $8,067 more than federal housing. Not only that, but shelters are unable to house large numbers of people, especially if they have stay limits.
As Ryan mentioned in his post, regulations meant to help the homeless can have great benefits. However, there are fewer of those than laws that restrict homeless and citizen activity. Cities need to think about what is most effective—limiting the actions of homeless individuals, or working to invest (and save) money in long-term housing options and treatment? Change is possible, and with homelessness reaching epidemic levels in some areas, it’s time to work to create it.