Laws that criminalize homelessness are on the rise, says an advocacy group’s report quoted by NPR. The laws prohibit everything from sleeping in public to loitering and begging. Advocates for the homeless say the laws are making the problem worse. Last year, Portland, Me., banned loitering on median strips. A federal judge declared the law unconstitutional, but the city plans to appeal. Council member Ed Suslovic says the goal of the legislation was not to hurt the homeless. “This was a public safety threat, mainly to the folks in the median strip, but also to motorists going by as well,” Suslovic says.
Maria Foscarinis of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty says such measures are counterproductive, especially if they subject individuals to jail time or fines they can’t afford to pay. “It’s really hard to get a job when you’re homeless anyway, or to get housing,” she says. “You have no place to bathe, no place to dress, no money for transportation. But then, if you also have an arrest record, it’s even more challenging.” Her center found that local bans on sleeping in vehicles have increased almost 120 percent over the past three years. Citywide bans on camping have grown 60 percent, and laws against begging have increased 25 percent. The U.S. estimates that more than 610,000 people are homeless on any given night.