Criminalizing Homelessness Is Not A Solution – Part II

Posted: June 17, 2009 in Bureauacracy, Civil Rights, Discrimination, Government, Homeless Shelters, Homelessness, Housing, Politics

Excerpted from: Criminalizing Homelessness Is Not A Solution – Part I

"Nashua, New Hampshire; Gainesville, Florida; Las Vegas, Nevada; St. Petersburg, Florida; Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

What do these cities have in common?

… 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…"

In Nashua, NH a "tent city," located in Mines Fall Park is being dismantled.  

In order to justify forcing the homeless to leave the encampment, Nashua City officials and members of the park’s volunteer "advisory committee" are using the same tired rhetoric similarly used by other cities:

"It’s so beautiful if we could just get rid of the trash. We would like the public to be able to go down there and see all of this…

We’re trying to make life easy for all of the park users. We want them to feel safe…

They’re breaking the law. There are ordinances that say no camping, no alcohol, among other rules. They’ve got to go somewhere else, is what it comes down to."

The hypocrisy of all of this is made clear in the opening paragraph of an article in the Nashua Telegraph:

"After years of tolerating, if not outright condoning, the Maple Island homeless encampment at the northeast edge of Mine Falls Park, city officials now hope to discourage gatherings by cutting a trail through it."

The city asserts that it is seeking to dismantle the tent city due to a recent attack against a homeless man at that location – although they do acknowledge that specific area of the park is generally a "safe place" for the homeless.

Nashua’s decision to dismantle the tent city, claiming concern for the well-being and safety of the homeless, would hold credibility with me except for one line in the article – which I found particularly telling:

"… and complaints that people with homes of their own were gathering there to drink."

What it comes down to is this: Nashua’s homeless are being further displaced because "housed" members of the community are heading down to that part of the park to and getting soused.

And, like so many other cities which use local ordinances to "deal" with the homeless, Nashua city officials haven’t provided an alternative place for the homeless to sleep. They do however admit that "… clearing out the camp will only force the homeless to bed down elsewhere."

If Nashua (like so many other cities) were more focused on helping its homeless rather than being preoccupied with hiding them, perhaps they wouldn’t have a homeless population in the first place.

In Gainesville, FL residents of a homeless encampment were presented with an "eviction" notice a couple of weeks ago.

Those homeless who do not vacate will be charged with trespassing and be subject to being ticketed and/or arrested.

To be fair to the city of Gainesville – certain "sections" of that specific tent city are on privately owned property and the owners want the homeless gone. This however is in reaction to recent incident which ended with two people being stabbed.

An article in the Gainesville Sun reported,

"Trespass law enforcement began on the property after a stabbing incident last week in which two people were injured. The two who were stabbed were at a homeless camp on the land.

Police advised the property’s owners about the stabbing and were asked to start enforcing trespass laws on the land."

It’s perfectly understandable that the property owners would be concerned with the potentially having to deal with liability issues due to the stabbings – and therefore wanted the homeless to be moved elsewhere.

On the other hand, the fact that there is a tent city in Gainesville is evidence that the city has not done enough to provide adequate resources to help its homeless population.

Regarding the "eviction," Howard Simon, executive director of ACLU of Florida, was quoted by the Independent Florida Allgator, saying:

"If they don’t want them under parks and trees, then they should provide funding to organizations dealing with the homeless or build a place for them. Don’t arrest them unless you provide a place for them to go."

Although Gainesville does have plans to build what is being called the "One-Stop Homeless Center project," the completion date is still 18 to 24 months away – which is a sad consolation to residents of Gainesville’s tent city who are being evicted from their "homes."

They will be forced to find another place to lay their heads. And, most like as not, those locations will probably also be potentially subject to "no trespassing" ordinances.

Tomorrow: Criminalizing Homelessness Is Not A Solution – Part III

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