What does criminalizing homelessness accomplish?

Posted: September 20, 2010 in Bureauacracy, Civil Rights, Discrimination, Government, Homelessness, Morality, Politics, Poverty

Over the last few months it seems as though there has been an increase of news articles about communities that are placing some types of bans on homeless activities. Some of communities are even placing bans and restrictions on “regular” folks feeding the homeless in public places.

Most homeless advocates refer to these types of legislative practices as “criminalizing the homeless.” Community politicians and officials, on the other hand, are quick to counter that they are not criminalizing homelessness, but are just trying to keep the peace.

Regardless of how it’s labeled, the end result is ultimately the same: it punishes a segment of a community’s local population for not having a place to call home.  

In the time I’ve been authoring this blog, I have read who knows how many articles about communities criminalizing homelessness. Everything from banning where a person can sit; how long they can sit on any one particular public bench; when, where or even if someone may panhandle; bans on sleeping in public places; prohibitions against the setting up of homeless encampments and so forth. In some cities, there are ordinances which regulate what hours of the day or night the homeless are allowed sleep in public areas.

Even more deplorable – there are cities that have enacted ordinances which criminalize “regular” folks for feeding the homeless in public places without obtaining a permit from the city. Some have outlawed it altogether.

How ridiculous is that? Telling folks it’s illegal to do something compassionate for their fellow man.

And, of course, the argument from local officials is always the same: health and safety concerns.

Call me simple, but if these politicians and bureaucrats were really all that concerned about the health and safety of their local citizenry, they would strive to find viable programs to help the homeless become housed members of their respective communities – and not just engage in warehousing them in homeless shelters.

What chafes me the most, however, is the predictability of the outcomes when a local government first proposes the banning of homeless activities. The storyline is always the same.

First, some person(s) or business owner(s) complain about the presence of the homeless.

Next, one or more members of the local governing body “determine” that something needs to be done to “address” the issue and a proposed ordinance is “put on the table.”

After that comes the legislative pantomime: hearings are scheduled and the public is invited to give their opinions regarding the issue. In some cases, the local government may postpone voting on the ordinance, citing the need to further study the situation. But in the end, and almost invariably, the ordinance is adopted – and in certain instances, it is passed with an even more stringent set of restrictions than originally proposed.

The entire procedure is nothing more than political theatre. It is meant to give the illusion that local officials are addressing and solving homelessness. However, other than maintaining the status quo and covering their own political butts, all they’ve actually done is push homelessness further into the shadows of society with an out-of-sight-out-of-mind mentality.

The downside of this superficial and immoral approach to homelessness is that over time the numbers of homeless increase. And then, homelessness becomes visible once again. At which time, the whole demented procedure of enacting more ordinances to criminalize homelessness begins anew.

I’m not sure if politicians are naïve or just being willfully ignorant. But, one would think they would recognize that since criminalizing homelessness did nothing to reduce the numbers of homeless in their communities in the past, it will not work in the future.

With record numbers of Americans living in poverty, it is safe to conclude that some of them may end up becoming homeless. How many is anyone’s guess. But lately, many cities across the nation have been reporting sharp increases in homelessness.

Once these folks become homeless however, not only will they have lost a place to call home, they will have also lost something more fundamental: certain freedoms.

They will not be free to sit, lay or sleep. They may be denied the freedom of having acts of kindness offered to them by other members of their communities. And so on.

In exchange, rather than being viewed as members of their respective communities who are undergoing rough times, they will be treated like criminals and outcasts.

And that is to the shame of us all.

What does criminalizing homelessness accomplish?

Not a damn thing – at least nothing that we, as a nation, should be proud of.

  1. S Barringer says:

    What does criminalizing homelessness accomplish? Just what it says. It’s a way of giving notice to those who, no matter the cause, are homeless, and most likely jobless, therefore not “contributing” to the social order. This is a big sin to some who believe in survival of the fittest, and if you are not fit enough to have a job, keep a home going, etc, like a “good” citizen, then go someplace else. The globalists don’t want them to survive. There is no place for compassion in their globalist program. It’s that simple.

    • HimThatIs says:

      I notice that everyone here seems inclined to point at the government for the predictable scapegoat. Once again we expect the government to handle everything and not take responsibility for ourselves or others. This is the major contributing factor for homelessness in America. The government needs to take care of it. the government needs to provide. the government needs to step in and control the situation.

      How about WE the people do some for once, give it a try. Growing up my family and I were always one step away from the streets. We didn’t have food for stretches. Water and electricity, heat and sewage were not commodities. Even though we were hungry and in the dark and had to go outside sometimes when we had to go, we weren’t allowed to go on welfare. Like hitting your mother, It. Didn’t. Happen. It was a mindset our father instilled. He made work happen. Now I make work happen.

      You know who didn’t make work happen? The dozen or so sob stories who lived in our house, ate our food, lazed around and gave nothing but a damn good excuse and stories that couldn’t be beat. They were around to get something but gone when even dishes needed done. Dishes.

      My father was old school country boy, the help your fellow man type. However the kids didn’t get theirs, the boarders did. I complain, but I did it too. I didn’t take time off work to drive them all over town or give them cash to pay off debts that didn’t get paid. But I took some people in, gave them a roof, food, clothes and such. However the Professionally Unemployed are professionals at doing so and the more we make it a viable alternative the more it catches on. Just go to an adult center where the Baker Acts go. Then watch as the manic depressant cuts it up in the main room. Many there come in for the ”three hots and a cot”, then get out when their check comes, spend it and repeat. The doctors have to allow it or they’ll get sued and lose their license. The global problem is not flat, it has many sides.

      There are generations of unemployed. It’s easier to do than work, another reason its catching on. If you want to hinder joblessness and homelessness then keep the government off the program. With all the rules and regulations stopping people from creating jobs, it makes sense to just get on the welfare payroll.

      Several individuals have tried to make honest living selling recycled goods, home grown produce, and such only to be shut down for not having a license to sell their own property. If you want to complain, complain about that. The removal of our rights and ability to provide for ourselves honestly. When you give the problem and power to bureaucrats and politicians, you are to blame.

      There is not easy answer and there is no blanket answer. So go out and fix if you can, but don’t pin it on another. And don’t forget that the parties themselves need to do the most work for their benefit, just like the rest of us.

      I do apologize for the negativity of this post, but it is an ugly topic and more than one side should be given.

  2. Bri says:

    Yay, you’re back! :)

    • nearlynormalized says:

      Homelessness, mental illness, criminals hiding with the street people, drug addicts, dealers…Hey they reside amongst those who just can’t do it anymore. Do what you ask? Live in the BS reality that is imposed on them.

  3. C Haze says:

    Great post. Not only do homeless people have to deal with the loss of their jobs and homes, but they have to deal with the horrible humiliation that comes with their new life status. Most of us, were we to lose even a few pay checks in a row, could easily find ourselves in the same predicament. Considering the plight of the homeless could become our own personal plight at any moment, you’d think we’d have a little more compassion, as a whole.

    • Alex J. Kane says:

      There’s a harmful polarization of opinions here — those who argue for work ethic, and the American prospect of success, would have homeless people starve to death and think the world better for it. The others would continually “give a man a fish,” rather than “teach a man to fish.” There has to be a logical middle ground — give the homeless an opportunity to begin life anew.

      This country has no sympathy for the less fortunate, and it’s a disgrace. On the other hand, people do have to be allowed the means to work for sake of bettering their lives.

      Government welfare money needs to be distributed appropriately — rather than feed the lower-middle class for free, simply because they continue to irresponsibly birth children, place limitations on reproduction (if individuals show a lack of common sense), and give some of that tax money to individuals who haven’t the chance to feed themselves, let alone a slew of government-fed children.

  4. People have many opinions about other people’s lives, but nobody wants to step out and actually help. And I am not just talking about money, but time. The economy is tough right now, and we may have lost a good deal of finances, but our time is still the same. I could not image being in that position and having countless people make a big circle around my presence. I am thankful for the grace to do something during this time, or any.
    Great post, and I hope it is received well.

  5. Redhead says:

    “if these politicians and bureaucrats were really all that concerned about the health and safety of their local citizenry, they would to find viable programs to help the homeless become housed members of their respective communities ”

    they are not concerned about the health & safety of their local citizenry, they are concerned about being re-elected. period.

    making homelessness illegal is like putting a big shiny bandaid on a gunshot wound and then telling everyone you’ve used the best, shiniest, biggest, most expensive band aid in the world, so of course the problem is fixed. Sure, you could treat the problem with shelters, and job training, and halfway houses and counselling and whatever else would actually help the homeless, but none of that stuff is shiny, none of it is instant gratification, and none of it gets people re-elected.

    how sad is that?

  6. casspaz says:

    Great insightful post. Actually just wrote up an entry on my own personal experiences. Feel free to take a peek: http://casspaz.wordpress.com/2010/09/24/win-or-lose-were-all-in-this-together/

  7. Bmj2k says:

    Feeding a homeless person on the street, while compassionate, does nothing to change their circumstances or get them off the street. It can be argued that it enables them to remain on the street.

    While criminalizing the homeless is not the answer, in many ways it give police more compassionate powers, like the ability to get the homeless off the streets in freezing weather when their live is in danger. In NYC, many homeless freeze to death in bad weather.

    • Storm says:

      Yeah, I agree. I live in an area with many homeless people, and they seriously just make a living off being homeless. They save up just enough change to go to the seven eleven and get a sandwich and a beer. They harass every female that walk by them and the answer should be more homeless shelters and rehabilitation programs. The homeless around where I live, if you talk to them for just 5 minutes there are certain things you can tell. They are uneducated, they are doing nothing to improve their situation, and it’s not my responsibility to take care of them.

      I may just be jaded from being accosted every day several times a day on the way from my apartment to my job, or just every time I walk outside my apartment.

  8. Katie says:

    Well-said. The lack of compassion in this country often scares me. People are so protective of their own money, their own assets, that it doesn’t even occur to them that giving back out of thankfulness for their own blessings might have other forms of positive payback. We are overall a greedy, greedy nation and stories like this make me recognize the clear hypocrisy of calling this a “free country.”

  9. Gummi says:

    I guess I’d like to know your thoughts on the now steady larger growing community within the homeless community that is “homeless by choice”. I have worked for volunteer services with homeless shelters, churches giving back, a hot meal, a church service, a couple bagged lunches to take with them, and every time we hear about some guys who are homeless because of honest reasons like, lost their jobs, etc etc etc complaining about this growing trend amongst people who want to be lazy and just be homeless by choice and be taken care of by the mass population of individuals who work for their hard earned money. This is what gets me steamed. I mean I’m all for helping those who need help. It’s our duty as human beings, but it’s not my duty to help that individual who is homeless by choice. Take your money grubbing paws and go back to your family that you left voluntarily (I actually heard a woman say this out loud at one of the gatherings) and be a productive member of society and stop stealing from those who actually need the help.

    • michael says:


      There are actually a lot less folks who are “homeless by choice” than most Americans believe. Less than 6 percent of America’s homeless deliberately choose to homelessness as a liefstyle.

      – m –

  10. Abby says:

    A very thoughtful article. I hate that we legislate against compassion and kindness.

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