Tuesday, November 18, 2008


Kathryn Alfisi, Washington Lawyer - Homeless and civil liberties advocates see food-sharing ordinances as one of the latest measures that "criminalize" homelessness in a misguided attempt to deal with the substantial homeless population in the downtown area. Other ordinances restrict or make it illegal to panhandle, loiter, sit or lie down outside, and obstruct sidewalks. There also are mandated sweeps of places where homeless people live and destruction of their property. . .

Supporters of nuisance ordinances argue that people who live, work, or visit downtown are fed up with being harassed for money on the streets and seeing public parks turned into trash-filled encampments for the homeless. The ever-increasing homeless population not only affects individuals, but it also hurts businesses and hampers downtown improvement efforts.

Although criminalization may not be entirely new, advocates say it began to become a more noticeable trend in the early 1990s, most likely in reaction to the homelessness crisis that started the previous decade. The 1990s also saw the beginning of downtown revitalization efforts in U.S. cities. While these efforts were successful in attracting new businesses and young, middle- and upper-middle class residents, the homeless remained. "I think a lot of the purpose behind these laws is to move homeless people out of downtown areas where there are a lot of people and a lot of development going on. Some cities say it's bad for tourism, some claim it's bad for business, and some claim that these laws deal with public safety or health issues," says Maria Foscarinis, executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty.

In 2006 NLCHP and the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) released a report. . . that detailed criminalization trends based upon the results of a 2005 survey of laws and practices in 224 cities. The report featured a list of the country's "meanest cities" for the homeless. A follow-up report is scheduled to be released by the end of 2008. The meanest cities list revealed the trend toward criminalization was widespread. The top 25 included large cities such as Atlanta and Houston as well as small cities such as Lawrence, Kansas, and Sarasota, Florida. It also included Boulder, Colorado, and San Francisco-cities traditionally thought of as liberal.

During the period between 2002 and 2005, the report noted a 14 percent increase in laws prohibiting sitting or lying in public spaces, a 3 percent increase in laws prohibiting loitering or vagrancy, a 12 percent increase in laws restricting panhandling, and an 18 percent increase in laws prohibiting aggressive panhandling.


At November 19, 2008 11:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One thing not properly mentioned in this article, is the explosion of homeless populations in the 1980s with Ronald Reagan's closing of many mental hospitals. Reagan's promise was that out patient services will be available, to those released from mental hospitals, but that out patient care never materialized.

I was going to college in a downtown area during that time. It was almost overnight, homeless populations mushroomed, and these weren't just down on their luck alcoholics, but seriously mentally ill people just let loose on the street.

In my city where there had been only a few hundred chronically homeless people, suddenly there were thousands, and many of them far too mentally ill to function without care, many of them with violence problems. This has created a fear of homeless people, which leads to all these anti homeless laws in the following 2 decades.

There has never been any replacement for our old mental hospitals, or a large scale push to offer out patient services for the mentally ill, all the while, we have had several wars, and serious national tragedies such as, our crumbling economy, 9/11 and Katrina, all of which add to the numbers of mentally ill and homeless people. Yet there has been no substantial increase in services for mentally ill homeless people.

At November 19, 2008 4:22 PM, Anonymous Charles said...

So-called liberal Arcata in Humboldt County has had anti-sitting on the sidewalk and anti-dog walking ordinances for its downtown area in place for the last 7 years. They're currently being sued for not providing emergency shelter space in the city as required by state law.

At November 20, 2008 3:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another thing we can thank Slick Willie for.

There's a non-zero possibility that Reagan had good intentions when he dumped people into the street...but good ol' Slick could damned well see the consequences with his own eyes. If he had cared to look.

(I don't bother mentioning Bush Two's culpability - anyone who *ever* expected *anything* but culpability from him is in need of anti-psychotic medication themselves.)


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