Being homeless in America is becoming more and more difficult, as new legislation in certain cities throughout the country are actually considering it a crime. Homelessness a crime? Sadly — yes.
Less Affordable Housing Means More Crime
According to a report by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty (NLCHP) which surveyed 187 cities, since 2001 the US has lost nearly 13 percent of its low income housing. That means more people in need on the streets. With the decrease in low income housing, there has been a spike in laws that restrict loitering, begging, sitting and lying down in public. Along with that, 18 percent of cities ban sleeping in public, and 42 percent even ban sleeping in vehicles. NLCHP Executive Director Mary Foscarinis knows that these statistics are a problem, understanding how difficult it can be for individuals facing homelessness to get back on their feet.
Foscarinis spoke about the issue and stated, ““It’s really hard to get a job when you’re homeless anyway, or to get housing.” She continues, “You have no place to bathe, no place to dress, no money for transportation. But then if you also have an arrest record, it’s even more challenging.”
Florida Cracks Down for the “Benefit of the Community”
Florida city spokesman Matt Little says that the new Florida laws that are meant to crack down on public drunkenness, urination, and sleeping on sidewalks is all in effort to help the homeless, but also preserve the city’s quality of life. He stated that, “The city of Florida has a distinguished history of compassion toward those in need.” He goes on, “Protecting our quality of life and business environment ensures continued funding for humanitarian needs.”
Alternatives to Criminalizing Homelessness
While Little believes that criminalizing these acts may help those in need, and possibly give the homeless a push in the right direction, it can be argued that these arrests will actually (as Foscarinis stated) make it more difficult for the homeless to gain employment and housing. Other cities are taking a different approach on the matter.
Instead of criminalizing the homeless, some cities are focusing efforts and resources into providing housing and other services. Miami-Dade County raises money for the needy through its Homeless and Domestic Violence Tax, and the NLCHP has pressured the federal govenment to provide the National Housing Trust Fund with 3.5 billion dollars each year to prevent people from living on the streets, and to increase affordable housing.
The NLCHP report stated, “The federal government should play a leadership role in combating the criminalization of homelessness by local governments and promote constructive alternatives.” It is clear that something needs to break the cycle.