The criminalization of poverty and homelessness

Mayor Soglin is in very good company. The criminalization of homelessness is taking place all over the country.

Barbara Ehrenreich (Nickel and Dimed in America) writes about it:

the criminalisation of poverty has actually intensified as the weakened economy generates ever more poverty. So concludes a recent study from the National Law Centre on Poverty and Homelessness, which finds that the number of ordinances against the publicly poor has been rising since 2006, along with the harassment of the poor for more “neutral” infractions like jaywalking, littering, or carrying an open container.

The report lists America’s 10 “meanest” cities – the largest of which include Los Angeles, Atlanta and Orlando – but new contestants are springing up every day. In Colorado, Grand Junction’s city council is considering a ban on begging; Tempe, Arizona, carried out a four-day crackdown on the indigent at the end of June. And how do you know when someone is indigent? As a Las Vegas statute puts it, “an indigent person is a person whom a reasonable ordinary person would believe to be entitled to apply for or receive” public assistance.

Some other examples:

It’s apparently illegal in Raleigh, NC to feed the homeless.

Columbia, SC is setting up a concentration camp for the homeless:

Concerned that Columbia has become a “magnet for homeless people,” and that businesses and the area’s safety are suffering as a result, council members agreed on Aug. 14 to give people on the streets the option to either relocate, or get arrested, according to the city’s “Emergency Homeless Response” report.

Cooperative homeless people will be given the option to go to a remote 240-person bed emergency shelter, which will be open from September to March. The shelter will also be used as a drop-off for people recently released from prison and jail, too.

3 thoughts on “The criminalization of poverty and homelessness

  1. It should come as no surprise that cities all over the country are facing serious problems with homeless people straining their resources. Recovery from The Great Recession of 2007-2008 has been very uneven across many parts of the country. Even before the economic downturn there were serious issues about poverty and illness. With the effects of the cuts in federal and state support for social services that are being felt as the Republican efforts to strangle our government continue, local governments are left to pick up the pieces. Most of them have neither the resources nor the structures to address the multiple causes of homelessness. The articles that are cited provide illustrations of the attempts to deal with the most immediate manifestations of homelessness: sick people, sometimes violent people and severely mentally ill people wandering the streets in search of food and shelter. It is easy to blame the municipalities for inadequate responses, but the real culprits are the people who reject federal and statewide efforts to fund health care at an adequate level. That has been taking place for many years and the consequences are coming home to rest.

  2. In the interest of accuracy, here is a link to the report by the only journalist who claims to have been present at the marathon meeting at which “Columbia Cares” and the “Emergency Report” referred to above were discussed: A press conference called to try to clarify the situation was held Monday, August 26. A report on that is here: The next discussion is scheduled for September 3 and until then many groups are mobilizing; so stay tuned.

  3. Father Jonathan, you are living in it- your church the home of the single Men’s shelter, food pantry and community meals- and located in the heart of the downtown where many who are homeless have to stay for lack of transportation. You see it everyday. You talk to and have relationships with those who are experiencing homelessness and you have spoken so eloquently on what you see, how your church is effected and how you plan to reach out in future efforts. What do you see those of us working to help those in crisis, with little or nothing – needing to do? What can we do- as ordinary, “regular” people to help our homeless neighbors- right now in practical and useful ways? Our weekly food run has been hit with bigger crowds than ever-we keep running out of food- I have been told that Savory Sunday has also been running out of food- our Midnight run takes less than 30 minutes to hand out supplies for 100 people living outdoors…I now have 42 remote camping sites that I visit— it feels like the economy and the circumstances here in Madison are causing a swelling in the numbers of those who are homeless… yet growth for services is slow paced, and often argued against and it just can’t keep up… no one wants a 24-7 day center in their neighborhood… and homeless people are dying out here (5 deaths in the past months). It scares me.I am frightened for my homeless family. I know that we are doing God’s work, but the problems seem so overwhelming Father. I pray each day for my homeless brothers and sisters- I pray for God to give us direction, to give me direction- I give it back to Him because this is HIS thing. I wish I could hear an audible response to that prayer…My heart breaks to see the desperation and the fear. To see people hungry, cold or overheated, sick with little healthcare and no medicine, addicted with no available treatment beds or turned away from detox, mentally ill with no treatment, injured, spat on, raped or beaten because of who they are and how they have to live. I am just a farm kid Father, I feel like I have no answers…I want…so much to make things better, and to have those who control the money, and who have the power those who look down on people with less to see my homeless family through my eyes, or far better- through God’s eyes. What do we do? How do we Pray? How can we be better, do better than we are? Right here, right now??? I ask this earnestly, and with hope… How do we become a city and a people that puts our fellow human being’s basic needs first?

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