If you’ve heard of sweeps, you likely know that it means a shelter used by someone with no other indoor space available is removed by the authorities. But what does it mean to get swept? Does a sweep help someone find housing, keep their job or medical appointments?
Sweeps are the act of police and/or private security forcing unhoused people to leave an area they are dwelling. This act often involves police/security taking people’s belongings, trashing them, and possibly arresting someone for illegal camping or other made up charges.
“I am worried about the Central Eastside Industrial Council’s so called ‘Enhanced Service District’ because it’s strategies of cleaning and patrolling make our lives more difficult. I have experienced these programs both on the other side of the river with “Clean and Safe” and over here where I live now. People think these cleaning programs are just benign beautification. They’re not aware of just how much of a problem it can be for a person….
Cleaning crews have mistaken my survival gear for refuse. I have lost my dentures, tarps, toiletries, and blankets to these contractors. And every time that my things are taken, I have to start over again. And in that time it takes to get some money and go to the store — I’ve gone without a toothbrush, razor, and soap… It’s stressful and it’s demeaning and eventually you give up because you’re tired of replacing toiletries; you get used to wearing the same pants; you get sick because you’ve lost your big tarp and the ratty one you do have requires you to crouch down and lets the water in; your back goes out; you stay wet all day; you get pneumonia.
More patrolling and more cleaning crews for me means more illegal seizure of my property, more calls to the city to evict me. I feel it all shortening and weighing down my life in ways housed people can’t even calculate or comprehend.”
– Jeff, lives outdoors in the Central Eastside
According to a report from Denver University Sturm School of Law, Denver spent at bare minimum a whopping $750,000 dollars on enforcement measures towards houseless individuals. Comprehensively between 5 cities the total ranged on the lowest-possible count at 5 Million Dollars.
” Denver Law’s Homeless Advocacy Policy Project examined how the widespread enactment and enforcement of laws criminalizing homelessness have become widespread in Colorado. Through a comprehensive analysis of the enforcement of anti-homeless laws, the project also examined the cost—economic and social—anti-homeless laws impose upon all Colorado citizens. ” – Too High a Price, What Criminalizing Homelessness Costs Colorado
In Oregon, there are approximately 125 anti-sleeping laws. These laws result in the constant displacement and sweeping of houseless people across the state, especially in Portland.
“According to street outreach interviews conducted by the Western Regional Advocacy Project, of the 496 unhoused Oregonians who answered the question, 94 percent reported having been harassed for sleeping in public, and 51 percent had been cited.” – Decriminalizing Homelessness: Why Right to Rest Legislation is the High Road for Oregon
On September 4th, 2018, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled city bans on sleeping in public are a violation of the Eighth Amendment, cruel and unusual punishment (Martin v. City of Boise). Previously, the Department of Justice issued a statement of interest, affirming the plaintiffs in the case.
Furthermore, The United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights in the U.S. claimed there is a strong reliance on criminalization to conceal the underlying poverty problem.
Sweeps are costly, inhumane practices that violate the constitutional and human rights of all.