Criminalizing Homelessness Is Not A Solution – Part I

Posted: June 16, 2009 in Bureauacracy, Civil Rights, Compassion, Discrimination, Government, Homelessness, Hunger, Morality, Police Harrassment, Politics

Nashua, NH; Gainesville, FL; Las Vegas, NV; St. Petersburg, FL; Myrtle Beach, SC.

What do these cities have in common?

For starters, they all have a visible homeless population.  

Another thing they have in common is that their local homeless populations have made the headlines recently.

However, the "seediest" thing they have in common is the practice of penalizing the homeless – or those who offer the homeless assistance – and, in essence, criminalize homelessness.

While, it’s true that many cities across the nation use legislative and punitive measures as a way of "dealing" with local homeless populations, the five cities listed above are the ones which caught my eye.

Here’s why…

St. Petersburg, FL., currently finds themselves facing a lawsuit which alleges that city ordinances are targeting and violating the civil rights of its homeless.

The suit was filed by six homeless persons with support from some "heavy hitting" homeless advocacy groups – including the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty.

There are six specific city ordinances being challenged by the suit.

An article in the St. Petersburg Times, mentions that one of the ordinances in question limits "… where and when the homeless can sleep and the amount of personal belongings they can keep by their side."

This isn’t the first time St. Petersburg has been in the news for its misuse of legislation in an attempt to "reduce homeless" within its city limits.

Back in 2007, St. Petersburg police raided two homeless camps, destroying tents with knives and box cutters and confiscating personal belongings of the homeless.

In one instance, one of the tents police "slashed" still had someone inside.

According to one article, Fire and Rescue Department spokesperson, Lt. Rick Feinberg justified the raids this way:

"The tents were too close together, too close to public thoroughfares, and they didn’t have fire extinguishers, he said.

Feinberg said the homeless also failed to get the required permits for their tents, which were set up on the public right of way.

‘They were all in violation of codes,’ Feinberg said. ‘No one submitted plans for preparations for these two tent cities.’"

Silly me. I didn’t realize that when folks became homeless, they were required to apply for a "building permit." But, apparently in St. Petersburg they do.

I guess Saint Petersburg has lost its halo – and its humanity.

In Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, the city council just recently voted 6-1 to limit how many times a year charitable organizations and church groups can feed the homeless in city parks: only four times per year.

According to an article in The Sun News, the reason for the new policy is – and, to use Myrtle Beach Councilwoman Susan Grissom Means’ own words,

"Our town parks weren’t built for feeding the homeless. We wanted to give somewhere for families and children to gather."

I have to admit, Councilwoman Means does seem to make a reasonable point. However, the city hasn’t actually offered any alternative locations for groups to utilize for feeding the homeless.

Perhaps the city council should have taken care of that detail before hand.

Although none of the articles I’ve read regarding Myrtle Beach’s newest restrictions have mentioned it, I’m almost certain that any group or organization which violates the ordinance will probably get fined for doing so.

By the way – according to, "Myrtle" is defined as:

"… any plant of the genus Myrtus, (esp. M. communis), a shrub of southern Europe having evergreen leaves, fragrant white flowers, and aromatic berries: anciently held sacred to Venus and used as an emblem of love."

I guess if you’re homeless and hungry in Myrtle Beach, don’t expect to be shown any love – or help getting off the streets – from the city council.

Tomorrow: Criminalizing Homelessness Is Not A Solution – Part II

  1. RLF says:

    Shasta County Homeless Working On Lawsuit Against Redding Police

    We are also against practices and laws that unfairly single out homeless people, violate their constitutional rights, and criminalize them for everyday living and life-sustaining activites in Redding and Shasta County as well.

  2. Harmony says:

    Just twittered this, and thank you! Looking forward to Part II.

  3. AnAmerican says:

    Humanity at it’s worst with targeting the homeless citizens of these communities with such inane rules and regulations. This might give you a little bit more understanding about the mentality of the Myrtle Beach council…suffice it to say this council doesn’t begin to come close to being enlightened about helping those in need.

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