Growing numbers of homeless encampments have led to civic soul-searching in cities around the country, from Philadelphia to Denver to Seattle, the New York Times reports. Should cities open up public spaces to their poorest residents, or sweep away camps that city leaders, neighbors, and business groups see as islands of drugs and crime? The Obama administration has offered the homeless and their advocates support. In a 2015 letter addressing a law in Boise, Id., the Justice Department warned that local laws criminalizing homelessness could violate the Constitution’s protections against cruel and unusual punishment. The Department of Housing and Urban Development says it takes into consideration policies that criminalize homelessness when deciding which places should get competitive grants.
Advocates for the homeless said those policies had strengthened their hand. They are worried about how those measures — and broader funding for homeless services — will fare under President-elect Donald Trump, who ran as a “law and order” candidate. “We’re quite concerned,” said Maria Foscarinis of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, which estimated that half of U.S. cities had some kind of anti-camping law. “No sooner do you win the battle than 10 other cities pop up criminalizing homelessness, she said. “The idea was if you could get the federal government on your side, you have a much broader impact.”