In the past few decades, laws and ordinances have been enacted and enforced as “quick-fix” solutions to remove homeless people from sight, rather than addressing the underlying causes of homelessness. The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty has been documented this criminalization trend in reports by since 1991.
According to an NLCHP report, out of the 187 cities survey between 2011 and 2014, 34 percent had citywide laws criminalizing camping in public. Another 43 percent of the cities prohibited sleeping in vehicles, and 53 percent banned sitting or lying down in certain public areas such as parks. All of these laws targeted the kind of activities — sitting, resting, sleeping — that are arguably fundamental to human existence.
Cities all over the country have increasingly moved toward enacting and enforcing laws that target and criminalize homelessness. For instance, in response to their concern about the use of public space. In response to complaints about gatherings of “vagrants” in public parks from downtown Sarasota, Florida. The city decided to remove the benches, later prohibited camping. The benches in Selby Five Points Park were removed in May 2011 to discourage the homeless from using the park.
Florida’s example along with NLCHP report show the common intent of removing homeless people from public spaces and sight. Although some city officials’ concerns about public safety are valid, the criminalization of homeless individuals is a poor public policy for several reasons.
By adopting anti-homeless laws and policies, we are punishing homeless people for their circumstances rather than addressing causes, prevention, and solution to homelessness.
Penalizing people for their circumstances will not help homeless people improve their situation and certainly will not keep them out of public spaces when they have no other choice. Rather, we should implement those laws and regulations to help increase resources for shelter and services that homeless people need.
Imposing laws that punish unavoidable activities is not only useless, but it is also inhumane.