America continues her war against the homeless. ThinkProgress reports that a new study released on Wednesday by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty has shown that ordinances essentially making homelessness a crime — such as sitting on the sidewalk — are becoming increasingly common across the country.
According to the report which has tracked laws in 187 cities since 2009 to study the spread of anti-homelessness measures, there’s been an uptick in nearly every type of different criminalization ordinance. The shape of the anti-homeless ordinances depend on city; for instance, Fort Lauderdale recently moved to make it illegal for homeless people to have possessions with them. Honolulu is considering a law that would criminalize sitting or lying on the sidewalk. Tampa made it illegal to sleep in public last year, and Palo Alto adopted a measure that prohibited homeless people from sleeping in their cars. These are just a handful of the anti-homeless ordinances in the country, which also include the anti-homeless spikes that made headlines in the beginning of June.
ThinkProgress reports how the various measures that criminalize homelessness have changed in the 187 cities that NLCHP examined:
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 is sharp in its criticism of the cities for violating the rights of the homeless people:
Courts have invalidated or enjoined enforcement of criminalization laws on the grounds that they violate constitutional protections.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.
The report also notes that the criminalization is often ineffective, because it doesn’t address the underlying causes of why people are homeless to begin with:
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.