Bitter Pill at Xmas: More Cities are Criminalizing the Homeless

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More cities are punishing homeless people for sleeping in public, amid an increase in people living on the streets, says the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty.

Arresting or ticketing people who have nowhere else to go doesn’t help them find permanent housing, says the center, reports USA Today. Instead, policies criminalizing homelessness can make it more difficult to afford and qualify for housing.

The report from the center comes as the Supreme Court considers reviewing a case on the legality of arresting unsheltered people when no shelter beds are available. It follows a Trump administration memo proposing more police involvement in responses to homelessness.

Almost three in four of cities surveyed restrict camping in public, a 15 percent increase since the last study in 2016. The number of unsheltered homeless rose in the last three years by 10 percent, says the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

To enforce camping bans, police sometimes do sweeps of homeless encampments, said the center’s Tristia Bauman. If homeless people refuse to move themselves and their belongings, they may face arrest, fines, or warrants. Landlords may later see an offense as a reason to reject apartment applications.

“Misdemeanor convictions can exclude someone from housing or subsidized housing,” Bauman said. “These laws worsen the problem.”

Fines can drain the limited budgets homeless people survive on, she said, and essential belongings can be lost in sweeps. Combined with the lack of affordable housing, Bauman said punitive laws can put housing further out of reach.

The center recorded an increase in city laws restricting sitting and lying down in public, as well as living in vehicles. Of 187 cities surveyed nationwide, 55 percent had a sit-lie ordinance and half limited the latter.

See also: “The Revolving Door Between Homelessness and Prison,” The Crime Report, Feb 22 2019

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