Criminalization of the poor is nothing new and there have been a sizable volume of entities that have done the research to ensure people are making the most informed choices both ethically and economically.
Here is a litany of reports and readings that can help ensure you are as aware as possible concerning these very important and relevant topics to our neighborhoods.
Homeless Exclusion Districts (2018, UC Berkley)
Business improvement districts (“BIDs”) are private entities funded by local property assessments that play an increasingly large role in managing public space in California cities. First authorized by state law in the 1960s to help revitalize struggling urban areas, BIDs have grown considerably in number and influence, especially since 1994 when the State Legislature reduced public oversight of BIDs and expanded their assessment and spending authority. Today, approximately 200 California BIDs collect hundreds of millions of dollars annually in compulsory property assessment revenue, which they spend on a wide range of activities.
Too High a Price 2: Move on to Where? (2018, Denver University’s Sturm College of Law)
Over two years have passed since the University of Denver Sturm College of Law’s Homeless Advocacy Policy Project released its report, Too High a Price, detailing the tremendous expenditures Colorado cities make in an effort to criminalize homelessness. As Colorado housing costs continue to skyrocket, its homeless epidemic has grown as well. Unfortunately, state actors continue to write, pass, and enforce ordinances that criminalize some of our most basic, life-sustaining activities. Laws such as camping, sitting or lying in public, begging, and loitering disproportionately target behaviors associated with homelessness, leaving one of the state’s most vulnerable populations living in fear.
Vehicle residents are a growing part of homeless populations. This guide examines case studies of successful safe parking programs in Washington and California that mitigate harm to vehicle residents and offer support that can lift people out of poverty and into stable, permanent housing. This report synthesizes key lessons from successful Safe Parking Programs, specifically around operational, legal, and public relations or messaging issues.
It Takes a Village: Practical Guide for Authorized Encampments (2018, Seattle)
An authorized encampment is a community of unhoused people lawfully living outdoors on another entity’s property. Several cities have implemented authorized encampments as interim options for people experiencing homelessness, but implementation has been haphazard due to a dearth of practical guidance. This brief summarizes the challenges and opportunities posed by encampments hosted by universities, operated by a third party, self-governed, and with compelled participation.
Authorized encampments are proven to have many benefits, including improved service delivery and security, community, and the stability necessary for residents to access permanent housing. This guide summarizes the challenges and opportunities posed by various encampment models along the West Coast.
The Secretariat has the honour to transmit to the Human Rights Council the report of the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, on his mission to the United States of America from 1 to 15 December 2017. The purpose of the visit was to evaluate, and report to the Human Rights Council on, the extent to which the Government’s policies and programmes aimed at addressing extreme poverty are consistent with its human rights obligations and to offer constructive recommendations to the Government and other stakeholders.
Decriminalizing Homelessness (2017, Oregon)
Individuals, families, and children experience homelessness for many reasons. When enough hardships collide at once you lose your job, healthcare, food stamps, housing, leave a domestic violence situation you end up with no place to go. Whether we are one rent increase away from eviction, have a family member living unsheltered, or are unhoused ourselves, homelessness can affect us all.
It impacts children, students, military vets, families, people of color, grandparents, women escaping domestic violence situations, LGBTQ youth, and people with disabilities. And once you are unhoused and unsheltered, there are a multitude of new challenges to contend with related to safety, protection from the elements, and living under laws created for public spaces.
Downtown areas are a vital port for social services, human contact, the exercise of free speech, employment, food, and other necessary resources; however, visibly poor people are increasingly shut out as laws and policies increasingly restricts access to these core spaces. Business improvement districts (BIDs) have significant influence on the creation and enforcement of laws that regulate downtown public space. BIDs wield significant political and economic power; they can also effectively deputize citizens to act as a form of private security with broad authority and discretion to enforce these spatial regulations. This brief examines the increasing privatization of public space, the role of BIDs in this process, and the impact on visibly poor people.
Forced into Breaking the Law (2016, Connecticut)
Thousands of people across Connecticut are experiencing homelessness right now. Without homes, they must fulfill their basic needs—a place to sleep, a place to bathe, a place to be during the day—in public spaces. But city ordinances across the state prohibit these necessary activities in public, banning loiter-ing, panhandling, occupying and sleeping in public places, and creating shelter, among other activities.
Laws in cities throughout Connecticut prohibit a person without a bed from sleeping on a park bench, ban someone without a place to be during the day from standing in a public plaza, and restrict the ability of a person without access to food to ask for money to buy something to eat. Cities across Connecticut continue to enact these laws.
Laws that restrict behaviors in which people experiencing homelessness must engage to survive, as well as the practices used to enforce these laws, constitute what this report refers to as “making homelessness a crime” or “the criminalization of homelessness.” Under these laws, police officers routinely order people to move. The threat of fines or arrest contributes to a pervasive sense of fear and insecurity. Constantly being told to move from the park, then the plaza, then the coffee shop, Connecticut’s homeless feel they have “nowhere to go.”
Bell vs Boise Department of Justice Brief (2015, DC)
On any given night in the United States, half a million people are likely to be experiencing homelessness. Homeless individuals are a diverse population, including children, families, veterans, and the elderly.
The causes of homelessness are also varied. For many homeless people, finding a safe and legal place to sleep can be difficult or even impossible.
In many cities, shelters are unable to accommodate all who are homeless.
These individuals must find space in a public shelter or sleep on the street.
In 2014, 42% of homeless individuals slept in unsheltered, public locations —under bridges, in cars, in parks, on the sidewalk, or in abandoned buildings
Housing not Handcuffs (2016, DC)
Ending the Criminalization of Homelessness in U.S. Cities
Homelessness remains a national crisis, as stagnated wages, rising rents, and a grossly insufficient social safety net have left millions of people homeless or at-risk. Although many people experiencing homelessness have literally no choice but to live outside and in public places, laws and enforcement practices punishing the presence of visibly homeless people in public space continue to grow. Homeless people, like all people, must engage in activities such as sleeping or sitting down to survive. Yet, in communities across the nation, these harmless, unavoidable behaviors are punished as crimes or civil infractions.
This report – the only national report of its kind – provides an overview of criminalization measures in effect across the country and looks at trends in the criminalization of homelessness, based on an analysis of the laws in 187 cities that the Law Center has tracked since 2006. We also analyze trends in local enforcement, describe federal opposition to criminalization, and offer constructive alternative policies to criminalization laws and practices, making recommendations to federal, state, and local governments on how to best address the problem of visible homelessness in a sensible, humane, and legal way.
Washington’s War on the Visibly Poor: A Survey of Criminalizing Ordinances & Their Enforcement (2015, Seattle)
Throughout the country, cities increasingly enact laws that punish behaviors necessary for survival. For those without shelter, there is no alternative but to conduct these behaviors in public. Camping outdoors, sleeping, going to the bathroom, receiving food, sitting or lying down on sidewalks — these laws target homeless people either in practice or outright. But until now, no one knew how widespread these laws are throughout Washington State, or how they are being enforced. This brief answers these questions.
Many studies around the country have demonstrated significant savings on incarceration, adjudication, and medical costs when funds are directed toward the creation of affordable housing. However, with the increasing prevalence of criminalization ordinances — ordinances that disparately impact the homeless — funds that could be used for affordable housing are being diverted toward their enforcement. Although existing studies address general costs and savings associated with housing homeless people, they do not address the costs directly attributable to criminalization ordinances. In an effort to shed light on these direct costs, the Seattle University Homeless Rights Advocacy Project has traced the following total costs directly to the enforcement of less than half of the identified criminalization ordinances in Seattle and Spokane:
Seattle: An estimated 5-year minimum of $2,300,000 is directly attributed to enforcing just 16% of the city’s criminalization ordinances.
Spokane: An estimated 5-year minimum of $1,300,000 is directly attributed to enforcing 75% of the city’s criminalization ordinances.
Affordable Housing Alternatives: Investing the $3.7 million spent in criminalization ordinances over the five years covered in this study in housing the homeless could save taxpayers over $2 million annually and over $11 million total over the five years.
Although these figures are substantial, they still underestimate the total overall costs that these two cities spend on criminalizing homelessness. For example, the vast majority of available data exists only for criminal violations, not civil infractions, which may constitute the largest percentage of enforcement costs in any given city. Finally, due to limitations in data, this report focuses only on two cities as Washington case studies. Although these estimates are necessarily a mere fraction of the total costs of criminalizing homelessness in Washington state, at least two things are clear: (1) these ordinances are costly and do not address the underlying problems of homelessness; and (2) the redirection of funds currently being used to criminalize homelessness to support affordable housing would result in substantial cost savings.
Punishing the Poorest (2015, San Francisco)
This report details the effects of criminalization on the homeless residents of San Francisco. Since 1981, San Francisco has passed more local measures to criminalize sleeping, sitting, or panhandling in public spaces than any other city in the state of California. During this same period, the United States has experienced the greatest expansion of its jail and prison system under any democracy in history. This expansion has primarily affected the poorest members of this society. This report documents and analyzes the impacts of the rising tide of anti-homeless laws in our era of mass incarceration on those experiencing homelessness in San Francisco.