Thursday, July 17, 2014

NPR: Targeted Laws Turning Homelessness Into a Crime

Posted By on Thu, Jul 17, 2014 at 11:30 AM

Boiseans will remember when the Boise City Council passed its aggressive panhandling ordinance late last summer: the demonstrations against it, complaints from downtown business owners about uncouth behavior in front of their shops. Increasingly, cities are using small bans and ordinances to curb what they see as a growing problem with homelessness. But NPR is also reporting that the trend is turning homelessness into a crime in some places, and, in some instances, making the problem worse.

new report, conducted by advocacy group National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty concludes that, "In communities across the nation, these harmless, unavoidable behaviors [e.g. sleeping, sitting down] are treated as criminal activity under laws that criminalize homelessness."

These laws include prohibitions against public camping, with 34 percent of 187 cities NLCHP has followed since 2009 imposing citywide bans on public camping and 57 percent prohibiting camping in particular public places. Similarly, 18 percent of canvassed cities imposed citywide public sleeping bans, and 27 percent of cities passed sleeping bans in particular public spaces like public parks. 

Other laws prohibit public begging, loitering and vagrancy, sitting or lying down in public, sleeping in vehicles, and food sharing. In Clearwater, Fla., 42 percent of area homeless have unreliable access to affordable housing or emergency shelter, yet the city has criminalized camping in public, sitting or lying down in public, begging and sleeping in vehicles.

In Santa Cruz, Calif., 83 percent of homeless are without housing and shelter options, but public camping, sitting or lying down, and sleeping in vehicles are criminalized. 
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