A Dream Denied:
The Criminalization of Homelessness in U.S. Cities
Narratives of Other Cities
Responding to complaints from the Albany Waterfront Committee, the city once again began evicting residents from their campsites on a former garbage dump known as the Albany Bulb. City employees tore down 19 encampments, using a backhoe to fill two large green dumpsters with tents, clothing and shopping carts, costing the city $15,000. The city’s environmental resources manager, Nicole Almaguer, stated, “The city has a no-camping ordinance that is being enforced at the bulb.”
The bulb has become a sort of cultural icon for its residents and the surrounding community. The area is full of large sculptures, paintings and other artwork, which became the subject of a 2003 documentary. Area residents have also turned it into an unofficial dog park. Simon Abrams, of Oakland, California, said, “I’ve been coming here all my life, and I’ve never had any problem with the homeless-they’re pretty mellow.”
Albany officials are seeking to monitor “instances of disorderly conduct,” such as public urination, trespassing, or creating a mess, because prior anti-camping laws were declared unconstitutional. “We can deal with camping, but we can’t keep someone from sleeping on public property,” said City Attorney Jim Delapoer. “The best we can do is monitor behavior.” The city plans to enforce existing laws more forcefully rather than enacting anti-homelessness ordinances. In addition, Delapoer also notes that if the city tries to legislate against homeless people, they will begin to roam the city rather than stay in their camps on the outskirts of town. However, many local newspapers have been publishing editorials calling for the removal of camps near the riverside area, citing litter and crime as major threats to Albany’s residents.
Albemarle County officials in July banned panhandling in roadways and on medians in response to concerns from police and residents. The Board of Supervisors unanimously passed an ordinance prohibiting any person from standing on public roads or highway medians to solicit contributions, distribute materials, or sell merchandise. Supporters of this measure believe panhandlers take advantage of motorists’ generosity, intimidate residents, and create safety concerns.
Bulldozers, making room for a public works area, cleared Allentown’s “Tent City” homeless encampment. Officials gave warning of the clearing, as well as provided inhabitants with information about shelters and other assistance. The eviction was spurred by residents’ complaints and redevelopment plans in the area. The city said it was going to use the former encampment to store piles of gravel and stone for road and public water projects.
The Ashland City Council—including its more liberal incoming members—expressed near unanimous doubt that the potential liabilities and safety questions of a proposed permanent homeless camp could be overcome. The council voted against Ashland Housing Alliance’s proposal for a permanent homeless camp on city land, based on Portland’s Dignity Village.
Outgoing Councilman Don Laws said the council, in facing a homeless camp, would have to answer some big questions, including where it would be, how it would be run to avoid creating more problems than it solves, and whether there would be a “mecca effect,” attracting homeless people from all over. He doubts that one solution—a camp—would resolve the myriad problems that create homelessness.
While Councilwoman Care Hartzell, “absolutely” supports the camp concept, Hartzell worries that residents will disapprove of not only the concept, but also the use of city land. Similarly, Mayor John Morrison wants to focus on affordable housing in Ashland rather than the construction of a homeless camp. Like his colleagues, he is concerned about safety and liability issues, as well as the potential “mecca effect” of a camp.
The Athens Downtown Development Authority (ADDA) is considering a ban on “aggressive” panhandling. Art Jackson, the ADDA’s Executive Director, defines aggressive panhandling as cursing, following someone, and continuing to beg after being rebuffed. Anyone who violates the ban could be subject to a six-month restraining order. However, Courtney Davis of the Athens Area Homeless Shelter does not support a ban on panhandling, because “it would make homeless [people] less visible, rather than solving the [homelessness] problem.” Many people experiencing homelessness in the Athens area report being “barred” from downtown for asking for help. Kevin, who is without a home, stated, “Police will come up to you and tell you that you are barred from downtown and that if you come back you’ll be thrown in jail.”
In addition to outlawing panhandling, signs on small parking meters read, “A donation here will provide help for the homeless – Please do not give cash to panhandlers.” The local homeless coalition distributes ride tokens to homeless persons, but does not provide food or money for food in any way. Lynne Griever of the Georgia Task Force for the Homeless, a statewide effort of the Task Force in Atlanta, equates these signs with signs at the zoo that ask visitors not to feed the animals, and many homeless people contend that they don’t need ride tokens, but rather food and shelter.
In May 2003, a series of ordinances was passed that prohibited behavior such as loitering, panhandling, vagrancy, and other routine activities. Camps have been bulldozed in the aftermath of 9/11 and are routinely torn down as they are built anew. Homeless people are no longer allowed to be visible.
Throughout Augusta, any person on the street can be cited for loitering, begging, or accumulating garbage. In addition, there is a separate ban on vagrancy, which applies to anyone who has “no visible means of supporting himself.” Officers are authorized to tell people to “move on,” making it a crime not to do so. Since September 11, 2001, homeless camps have been routinely bulldozed, pushing homeless people both literally and figuratively out of sight. Sandy Wallack of the ACLU said the organization is already in the process of challenging the constitutional violations.
While Augusta does not have any formal anti-camping laws, city police may arrest Randy Reed, because he has refused to leave his makeshift home, which Reed carved out of the Kennebec River bank. After an attempt to persuade Reed to accept alternative living arrangements and mental health services, local service providers, including John Applin of Bread of Life Ministries, worries about Reed as the weather grows colder. However, Applin also notes that Reed is industrious, and many members of the community leave their recyclables for Reed to turn in for money. Reed’s situation only gained police attention, though, after heavy rains caused a slumping in a city parking lot near Reed’s riverbank home. Officials attribute the slumping to Reed’s excavation, which then led to the erosion and subsequent slumping.
The Downtown Partnership of Baltimore launched “The Make a Change” campaign to “quell the fears of tourists” and “protect” the downtown area. The program targets panhandlers and Baltimore’s homeless population of nearly 3000 people. The “Make a Change Campaign” discourages visitors from giving money to panhandlers by recommending donations in boxes that the Partnership will distribute to local businesses. This money in turn will go to Baltimore Homeless Services Inc., a quasi-public agency that serves the homeless community.
Kirby Fowler, president of the Downtown Partnership, called the campaign “the supply-side strategy, while law enforcement would be the demand side.” Fowler added that the downtown area is safe but that “an abundance of panhandlers often gives visitors to the city a negative impression.” In the past the Partnership has unsuccessfully tried to pass a bill that would have made sleeping or camping in the downtown area illegal. It is currently illegal to panhandle at night unless passively holding a sign, and aggressive panhandling has also been outlawed.
Amidst Downtown Baltimore’s redevelopment, particularly the Westside, advocates are reporting anecdotal increases in arrests for “public nuisance” crimes. People living their private lives in public places collect these citations in great number. When these citations become part of their criminal record they can block access to housing, employment, and public benefit programs in the future. The governor vetoed a state law, which would have permitted the expungement of non-violent “nuisance” crimes, after passage by the House and Senate of the Maryland General Assembly.
The Bellevue City Council has recently proposed a stricter ordinance on temporary homeless encampments within the city limits. Opponents believe the new ordinance would make it nearly impossible to host tent cities, as well as violate freedom of religion laws. According to Rev. Sanford Brown, executive director of the Church Council of Greater Seattle, “[Bellevue] is trying to nit-pick the churches to the point of harassment.” Under the city’s proposed plan, the following would occur:
- The host or manager must report to Public Health – Seattle and King County the names of occupants suspected of having some communicable diseases.
- Camp hosts or managers must submit a safety plan to the Bellevue Police Department and collect homeless residents’ identification. Background checks are not required.
- Camps must have one sink and one toilet for every 15 residents and one shower for every 40. These regulations can be waived if there are alternatives, such as a church’s indoor facilities.
- Property owners within 600 feet of a proposed site will be notified of an application, and a public meeting will be held. The permit is decided by the planning director and can be appealed to Superior Court.
- Hosts can apply for hardship exemptions to some rules.
Encampments also would be limited to a 60-day stay rather than a 90-day one. According to critics, the plan would make the siting process a lengthier procedure with a public-comment period. Currently, the same laws that monitor sidewalk sales and Christmas tree lots also regulate Bellevue encampments. While opponents recognize the need for safety and cleanliness concerns, they believe Bellevue’s proposed ordinance has not struck the right balance between religious freedom and public interest.
In an attempt at fairness, Berkeley began storing abandoned items left in shopping carts by homeless people in a local storage facility. In fall 2004, the city bought a 40-foot long, 8-foot wide refrigerated container to prevent pests from infesting the stored belongings.
After renewed police harassment in November 2004, a group of homeless people staged a sleep-out in People’s Park to protest police repression and seizure of their belongings. In addition to police harassment, the protestors’ belongings were confiscated. Some were arrested, while others were threatened when they refused to leave. The protestors did not influence the city council with their sleep-out, because according to Michael Diehl of Street Spirit, “sleep is still a crime for those without housing in this town.”
There has been an ongoing attempt by both the Berkeley and University of California police to rid the south campus area of “unsightly” homeless people. They have been selectively applying or misinterpreting several laws to rid the area of homeless people. For instance, police have told people sitting against buildings that they are trespassing, even though the ordinance was withdrawn after the ACLU sued the city. In the fall of 2004, the Suitcase Legal Clinic brought a formal complaint against the Berkeley police department, stating homeless people have “come to believe that their rights to be on the sidewalk depend on the mood and whim of the officer on the beat.”
City officials began to enforce a city ordinance that restricts certain forms of panhandling in December 2004. The ordinance prohibits entering the road to solicit donations, or working the interstate ramps during rush hours, and requires panhandlers to be licensed. Officials stressed that it does not end panhandling, but attempts to put homeless people in touch with others who can help them. Many homeless advocates supported the panhandling ordinance because it prevents certain hazards, but the majority of homeless people in the area do not see it that way. “One of these days, you ain’t gonna be able to walk down the street. There are signs everywhere. What’s wrong with my sign?” said a local homeless veteran named Thomas.
Other restrictions include a ban on “aggressive” solicitation of donations from anyone in a public area, within 15 feet of a bank or credit union, and within 15 feet of a check cashing business or ATM. The penalty for violating the ordinance is a fine up to $500 or 30 days incarceration.
Prompted by residents’ complaints of safety, noise, and public drinking, State Police, Department of Conservation and Recreation, and local homeless shelter officials swept the shantytowns under the Massachusetts Avenue Bridge. Crews removed four garbage trucks full of debris, which State Police spokeswoman, called “state property.” A shelter official estimates that approximately half of Boston’s 6,000 person homeless population spend some time under bridges, although others believe that the number of homeless people living in encampments is much smaller than these figures suggest. Workers from shelters returned to explain the sweep to homeless people returning to find all their belongings, including birth certificates and family photos, gone. State police officers now patrol the area to ensure the shantytown is not reconstructed, and they have been instructed to forcibly remove anyone who attempts to rebuild the camp. City Councilor Michael Ross, who encouraged the sweep, expressed his own concern for homeless people, but also said that his duty to his constituents takes precedent in this situation. Rebecca Marston, a business owner on Charles Street in Beacon Hill, believes that “to [just] go and rattle them out of their homes is really cruel.”
Construction planned for the south side of the Village of the Arts is soon to be completed. This city project is part of a $1 million investment plan to improve a formerly crime-ridden, neglected, and dangerous neighborhood. The transformation of this area into an arts district helped raise property values, eliminate slum and blight, and give the area something unique for its community. Subsequently, a proposed plan from local advocates to build a homeless resource center may cause residents to change their minds about the placement of public benches and trash cans in front of their homes and on the sidewalks. One resident is worried that homeless people will use benches as beds.
Furthermore, businesses along 14th Street are interested in supporting an ordinance that could deter homeless people from camping on their properties. An ordinance passed in 2002 prohibits anyone from camping on public or city property anytime after sunset and before sunrise. Penalty for disobeying the law includes a fine of up to $500, imprisonment not exceeding 60 days, or both.
Lt. Paul Sutton of the nearby Sarasota Police Department said, “We want to try to improve the situation. We want to help people, not enable people to stay in the same situation.” Sarasota police officers often refer homeless people to social services or take them to homeless shelters themselves. However, Bradenton authorities have few other options. “All we can do now, if they are camping on city or public property, is to ask them to leave,” said Maj. J.J. Lewis, spokesman for the Bradenton Police Department.
According to Martha Childress from the Community Coalition of Homelessness, the tension between business owners and officials and homeless people exists because the former does not understand the latter. She poses this scenario, “If I made you homeless for forty-eight hours, taking away all your belongings, including your shoes, and made you start walking, when someone offers you a pillow and blanket, would you sleep on the street or would you keep walking? If you didn’t want to be a prostitute or shoplift for groceries and no one would hire you because of your appearance, would you panhandle for food money? The last thing I would take away from you is your hope, and being hopeless would make you act in ways you won’t normally act. We don’t need laws; we need to address the question of homelessness in a profound way, and restore people’s hope, so they don’t have to camp out on the street or panhandle.”
In response to complaints from business owners, Burlington City Council is considering an ordinance that would restrict camping throughout the city on public and private property. The “unlawful camping” ordinance would prohibit campers from residing in city parks or public places that aren’t otherwise designated for camping, as well as outlaw camping in a tent, camper, or recreational vehicle on private property for more than 48 hours. The ordinance would also force homeless people to sleep in parks and other public places during the daytime hours. Chris Hoke, of Tierra Nueva ministries, said the ordinance would essentially make criminals out of homeless people. “They will not admit this is about fear, about class.” Many advocates fear the constant movement only exacerbates the situation.
City Council members claimed the ordinance was more of a safety and health issue connected to drug use, robbery, vandalism, and sex offenses that often surround illegal campsites. Rumors of sex offenders camping out in parking lots and stairwells among the public also prompted the proposed ordinance. Corrections Supervisor, Charles Wend, contends that the ordinance would actually make it harder to track and hold sex offenders accountable since they would constantly be on the move.
Mount Vernon Parks and Recreation Director, Larry Otos said that “Most of the time, people camping in the city parks aren’t participating in illegal activity and aren’t hostile […] a lot of these folks are just looking for a place out of the public eye.”
Cambridge parents who are tired of the human waste and bedrolls left by homeless people in city playgrounds lobbied the city council to discourage overnight sleeping. Complaints from residents have caused the City Council to reevaluate the city’s policy of allowing homeless people’s personal belongings to remain untouched for 48 hours in city parks. Currently, the policy calls for police officers and city workers to place warning stickers on unaccompanied bags and bedrolls, giving 48 hours’ notice until removal. Near Harvard Square, a homeless man said the parents’ concerns are “understandable,” but he added that safely stowing bags and bedrolls is a big issue for homeless people.
In September 2005, state police removed several “shantytowns” from under bridges in the area. After receiving complaints from local residents regarding alleged harassment and sexual assault, authorities swept the camps twice in one week. Residents of the shantytown returned after the sweeps, although the police have vowed to remove anyone who tries to sleep in the area. State law prohibits overnight camping on public property.
“They told us they would arrest us for trespassing under those bridges,” said Ronnie, a camp resident. “We are not here to bother or harass anyone. We just want to live in peace.”
Chapel Hill, NC
Police Chief Gregg Jarvies thinks there are enough regulations in place on panhandling and would rather see more officers patrolling the downtown area. “We’ve got plenty of laws on the books,” Jarvies said. “I’d rather have more personnel downtown, for many reasons. Not just panhandling.”
The panhandling debate has been ongoing in Chapel Hill. It has been discussed in town council meetings and in discussions about the town’s future. The town currently has ordinances against; panhandling near ATMs, bus stops, and bus shelters; aggressive panhandling, panhandling on all roadsides and medians and requesting money from dusk to dawn. The ordinance does allow holding a sign asking for money after dark. Town Councilmember, Mark Kleinschmidt, said, “It’s too easy to develop overly broad responses to these problems. The council took the easy way out. We didn’t spend the time to figure out how to address the problem.”
The police department has also attained legal restrictions to keep some repeat offenders out of specific areas. They are also consulting the department’s attorney in order to gain similar restrictions for the central business district as well. Since March of 2003, 46 panhandling related charges have been filed.
When asked about the city ordinance prohibiting panhandling, one homeless man responded, “Charlotte has got the most messed up rules in the United States.” The respondent was arrested for asking undercover officers for money to get a sandwich. Some anti-panhandling supporters believe the ordinance helped decrease the number of complaints from uptown workers, tourists, and business owners. However, the local police have no statistics on the number of arrests under the ordinance to determine its effectiveness.
The issue of panhandling or asking for money by the roadside has prompted a law allowing several Virginia counties to prohibit solicitation on highway medians. The State General Assembly passed legislation enabling counties to vote on an ordinance that prohibits soliciting contributions or distributing materials on roadways and medians. There are, however, allowances for groups that receive permission, such as fire departments that solicit donations. Violations of the ordinance would result in issuing warnings and possible citations for repeat offenses, making it difficult for those who are in need of the donations.
The city of Cleveland gave police permission in July 2005 to crack down on panhandlers who beg too aggressively or shake their cups within 20 feet of bank machines or restaurants. The Cleveland City Council passed an emergency bill that outlaws panhandlers from approaching or following someone in a way that causes intimidation, fear, or harm. The bill also bans persons from soliciting money within 20 feet of an ATM, bus stop, pay telephone, persons waiting in line, sidewalk cafe, or valet zone, as well as prohibits panhandling within 10 feet of an entrance to a restaurant or parking lot.
Brian Davis, Executive Director of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, spoke out against the legislation at a hearing, calling it unconstitutional. In addition, he doubts the ban will work. “I really don’t think it will have much impact and we’ll be back at the table,” said Davis.
The City Council agreed to a sunset provision in the law, requiring its expiration on October 15, 2006. Council members plan to review it before that date to assess any need for changes or its repeal altogether. The Executive Director of the Warehouse and Gateway neighborhood corporations, Tom Yablonsky, is pleased that the city moved to help businesses address the panhandling problem, saying “You know the law’s on your side, so you can tell people they have to move on now.”
In another incident, the Cleveland Police attempted to enter the main men’s shelter in search of a wanted man. Staff of the shelter blocked entry to the police officer who claimed to be in “hot pursuit.” The staff member was arrested for obstruction of justice, because he refused to allow the officer entry in to the building without a warrant. The police refused to drop the charges, as well as allow the shelter staff member to plead to a lesser charge. After the dispute, the shelter signed an agreement with the police to prevent entry into the facility without a warrant to avoid future problems.
The Community Women’s Shelter in Cleveland has an armed off-duty Cleveland police officer at the door checking every woman for weapons or drug paraphernalia upon entry to the facility. Advocates have objected to the loss of anonymity for the women who enter the shelter when a uniformed police officer is the first to greet a woman as she enters. There is an effort underway to negotiate a resolution between shelter managers and residents on the issue.
In Columbus, city law prohibits begging, loitering, or soliciting without a permit. According to Pat Greene of Mercy House, the ordinances are being enforced, and homeless people who come through his organization are aware of the city’s discrimination against them.
The closing and bulldozing of The Open Shelter in 2004 by City leaders has resulted in the loss of over 100 emergency shelter beds in Columbus. This loss is being felt throughout the metro area by the increased number of homeless people asking for money, searching for food, and sleeping in stairwells, on sidewalks, and out of view of pedestrians. Sweeps of campsites all over the area continue to leave even more people stranded and wandering. There was a large sweep by railroad officials near the railroad tracks, but also repeated reports of isolated incidents of displacement by police officers of encampments all over the city. The ACLU wrote a letter to the City to learn more about the city’s policy regarding sweeps and destroying campsites.
Meanwhile, the city has toughened the laws and/or enforcement policies on panhandling, littering, and loitering in several of the business districts. This initiative was pushed by Downtown businesses, and passed City Council in 2004. The City also has attempted to discourage giving to panhandlers with a campaign to urge pedestrians “to give to service agencies rather than individuals.” An outreach worker was hired and supervised by the downtown development agency. This worker cares deeply for the safety of homeless people, but is supervised and directed by downtown businesses. The downtown outreach worker is in place to assist people in finding ways to "get off the streets" and reduce negative encounters between pedestrians and homeless people. There is a great deal of pressure for those asking for money or those experiencing homelessness to move to nearby neighborhoods and adjacent business districts.
Corvallis Municipal Court Judge Mark Donahue upheld the constitutionality of Corvallis’ “illegal camping” ordinance, which was challenged by a local man found sleeping in a van. The man, Jeffrey Sexson, received 11 citations for illegally camping in his van on city streets. Sexson’s lawyer, John Rich, cited State v. Wicks, in which the Portland Municipal Court ruled that enforcement of Portland’s camping ordinance violated basic constitutional rights and unfairly punished a person for fulfilling basic activities, such as sleeping. However, while Judge Donahue did not disagree with Rich’s legal argument, he did not believe the defense proved that Sexson was indeed a homeless person. In State v. Wicks, evidence and testimony, including bed shortages among shelters in the Portland area and personal history that made it difficult for the defendants to obtain housing, were provided to prove the defendants were unable to obtain housing, subsequently forcing them into homelessness. Thus, Sexson was found guilty on one count of illegal camping under Corvallis’s ordinance, which states, “no person shall sleep or lodge in or upon any sidewalk, street, alley, public right-of-way, park, or any property owned by the City of Corvallis.” Until Sexson’s case is appealed, Corvallis police will not issue any more anti-camping citations. However, both the police department and city attorney are planning to modify the ordinance until it can be an enforceable law if necessary.
In Denver, panhandlers collect nearly $4.6 million a year, much to the dismay of the local business community. In an effort to curb what the Downtown Denver Business Improvement District and Denver’s Office of Economic Development deems Denver’s “panhandling problem,” officials urge citizens and visitors alike to refrain from giving money to beggars. According to Mary Buckley, “We need to help the people, [but] we need to help them without feeding addictions or keeping them on the street. However, Reggie Rivers questions the offices’ motives, “Business bureaus and economic development offices typically don’t spend time trying to cure the complex problems of poverty, homelessness, and panhandling. The objective [of their study] was to figure out how to keep unattractive, malodorous, poor beggars from driving away tourists and other customers.”
The Downtown Denver Business Improvement District is developing the initiative to convince its citizens that panhandling is counterproductive in the fight against homelessness, because it tends to feed substance-abuse problems. In addition, Denver’s mayor, John Hickenlooper, developed a 10-year plan, which includes drug rehabilitation and mental health counseling, to offer homeless persons help, rather than merely ticketing them. In addition, the mayor’s plan to end homelessness would create 3,193 housing units by 2015, and reduce panhandling by providing homes rather than writing tickets. The business officials propose that the $4.6 million collected yearly by panhandlers should go directly into funding Mayor Hickenlooper’s $100 million plan. However, most officials also support aggressive police enforcement to stop begging, including Denver’s law that prohibits panhandling within 20 feet of transit stops.
Despite a $10 million grant for permanent housing facilities to the city from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, more than 10,200 people remain homeless in the Denver metropolitan area, still leaving approximately 6,000 residents without a home under Mayor Hickenlooper’s plan. Doug Wayland, a spokesman for the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, said, “the perception is that homelessness is confined to Denver, but it’s a problem throughout the metropolitan area, [and] homelessness is shifting to families and children, and location is spreading into surrounding areas.” While Wayland believes the grant will provide housing and aid that is “economical and ethical,” the program will only extend to select participants, all of whom must be referred by outreach workers, police, or themselves. Reggie Rivers also contends “[that] panhandlers play an important role in our society, because they are the visible face of poverty,” especially to sheltered suburban America. While urban Denver is developing new ways to combat homelessness within its city limits, neighboring areas are do not have affordable housing for low-income individuals.
The 10-year plan to eradicate homelessness will first extend to what Roxanne White of the Denver Commission to End Homelessness calls the “[…] toughest cases.” However, despite new apartment and substance abuse programs for homeless people, the city also will crackdown on those who do not cooperate with Denver’s new program by continuing to panhandle, camp out, and block access to local businesses. In addition, those who decide not to enter the program and stay on the street will be contacted daily by outreach workers after all homeless people are registered in a database. However, many residents, such as Rivers, remain skeptical about the program’s underlying motive to “[…] push the poor out of site [rather than pushing] them out of poverty.”
Des Moines, IA
In the warmer weather months, business owners have begun to complain about the increased number of panhandlers outside their establishments. One bar owner, Chance Hulten, described panhandling as a nuisance to customers and businesses. He said, “If the city would do something, that would be great.” Currently, panhandling is not illegal in Des Moines.
Instead of directly targeting panhandlers, local organizations paid for approximately 1,000 posters urging residents to “find another way to give.” Fliers asked shoppers to donate their change to social service agencies rather than to homeless people. Officials intended to curb panhandling at the supply level, giving money to organizations with programs and facilities that can help. Nevertheless, critics of Evanston’s campaign believe that the posters will do little to keep people off the streets.
Forest Park, IL
According to Police Chief James Ryan, “in Forest Park we have zero tolerance for panhandlers and we arrest them immediately.” Upon the request of CSX Rail Corporation in August 2005, the police department raided a homeless encampment that was behind shrubs near local train tracks. Residents of the camp were given four days to clear the area or face trespassing charges. Citing a link between homelessness and crime, police officer Sergeant Michael Murphy warns that CSX could face litigation for crimes committed by homeless people if the area isn’t cleaned up in a timely manner.
Fort Lauderdale, FL
The police and city officials began a new approach to reduce crimes in November 2004 by aggressively enforcing smaller violations, such as panhandling, graffiti, littering, and prostitution in hopes of curtailing more serious crimes. Fort Lauderdale Police Chief Bruce Roberts stated, “paying attention to the small things can really make a difference.” In addition, officers are trained to refer homeless people to appropriate social service facilities. “I think that when your streets are filled with […] homeless [people], or prostitutes, or panhandlers, it suggests an atmosphere of neglect,” commented Vice Mayor Dean Trantalis. He also went on to say that he hopes officials would strike a balance when enforcing the law.
On any given night, Broward County has 10,000 homeless men, women and children and less than 1,000 emergency shelter units. Laura Hansen, from the Broward Coalition for the Homeless noted that, “This is a situation of neglect and arresting people doesn’t change that. If elected officials don’t want an ‘atmosphere of neglect’ they should get serious about addressing affordable housing and wages in this community.” The rental vacancy rate in Broward is less than 1%, leaving affordable places to live scarce and social services struggling to meet the needs of homeless people.
Ft. Myers, FL
Joan Murphy, a volunteer who organizes a Monday dinner outreach in Centennial Park, was outraged by a proposed ordinance that would prohibit serving weekly dinners to homeless people in public parks. The ordinance, which unanimously passed in December 2004, bans the distribution of food on city property, as well as suggests that services should be allowed only once a year. Murphy points out that “people are hungry 365 days a year. I think it’s a very unkind thing to do, to turn people away from a public park which is supposed to be for the public’s use.” Regardless, Mayor Jim Humphrey stood by the ordinance, arguing homeless people are scaring families away from the park.
However, in March 2005, Ft. Myers City Council revised the proposed ordinance to exclude picnics, so City Councilwoman Frankie Jennings could host a campaign barbecue on city property.
On April 4, 2005 the City Council approved unanimously the following resolution. It was also approved/signed by the Mayor of Ft. Myers. It reads in part—“The distribution of food or clothing by any organization or individual to the homeless may only be provided on private property or in an indoor facility. Homeless shall mean a person having no home or permanent place of residence.”
Despite promises from the Mayor and the City Attorney’s Office that the language referring to homeless people would be removed, the resolution is still the official city policy. However, the resolution is not being enforced by city officials due to the commitment of religious groups to continue feeding regardless of the consequences.
In December of 2005, the City of Ft. Myers issued a statement of regret for the delay in having the resolution rescinded. Mayor Humphrey has instructed the City Attorney to prepare the necessary changes for presentation to the City Council in February of 2006.
In November 2004, apple pie was served to protest a ban on serving food to homeless people at City Hall. Former City Manager Wayne Bowers approved a new regulation prohibiting the distribution of food and beverages in front of City Hall, except during city-sponsored events. “We feel it’s discrimination against one group of people…if the Chamber of Commerce and the downtown developers were out here doing a barbecue, there wouldn’t be any problem,” argued homeless advocate Pat Fitzpatrick. The city refused to co-sponsor the event and would not withdraw the law. However, it did allow the event to go on without threatening arrest.
Near downtown Gainesville, residents of the Duckpond neighborhood are calling for the arrest of homeless people who have been sleeping nightly on the Alachua County Housing Authority’s front porch. “They’re supposed to help […] homeless [people] and get them into homes…but porches aren’t homes, they’re not safe places, they’re not safe places for the neighborhood,” said one resident. Duckpond residents have complained to police about noise and trash, but Alachua County Housing Authority has not given permission to arrest the campers.
In August 2005, the Gainesville City Commission voted unanimously to reword a community redevelopment document, written several years ago, that has been labeled as offensive by homeless advocates. The document refers to people experiencing homelessness as “vagrants” and “transients” and claims they impede downtown redevelopment. However, Melisa Toothman of Critical Resistance still views the city council’s policies as part of the homelessness problem, calling for a repeal of the city’s anti-panhandling ordinances. Toothman says, “We demand our city commissioners, mayor, city manager, and police department acknowledge the various needs of our underserved and marginalized citizens and stop using them as scapegoats, as though they are the major problem that hinders our community from functioning securely.”
Since the National Coalition for the Homeless’ 2004 “Illegal to Be Homeless” report, the City of Gainesville and Alachua County have joined efforts to develop a ten year plan to end homelessness. In May 2005, the City and County began the project by creating several subcommittees made up of government officials, the business community, homeless service providers and advocates, and homeless individuals, to study issues related to homelessness in and around Gainesville and to develop recommendations for addressing these issues within the community.
In December 2005, the City and County issued a written “Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness” that is based on recommendations of the subcommittees. The City and County have begun to commit funding to support the Plan and have matched funds from a local developer to establish a winter shelter. As of December 2005, the goals set forth in the 10 year plan are still aspirational. Until the City and County Commissions render official approval on implementation and funding, it is unclear which goals in the plan will move forward and be adopted. The steps taken in the last year have been in the right direction, however, implementation and a significant commitment of funding by the City and County Commissions to carry out the plan will be critical to truly address these issues.
While the 10 year plan contains some provisions to examine criminalization measures used to target homeless persons, the criminalization of homelessness persists in and around Gainesville. There is, and historically has been, a substantial effort in Gainesville to move homeless individuals from public spaces, especially in the downtown area. For example, in response to pressure from developers, community members, and local government officials, local law enforcement officers have aggressively enforced “quality of life” ordinances against homeless individuals in and around the downtown area.
Law enforcement has also aggressively enforced the local aggressive panhandling ordinance, even resorting to undercover “sting” operations. Although it appears that most homeless individuals are aware of the ordinance and careful not to violate it, police seem to be extending their efforts to target activity that falls outside of the aggressive panhandling ordinance. Specifically, they are threatening, citing, and arresting homeless individuals who hold signs on public sidewalks that request charitable donations and draw public attention to the difficulties faced by homeless persons. Homeless individuals also report regularly being told by law enforcement that they have to move from public spaces without legal justification. Many homeless individuals feel that they are targeted by the police and report being treated poorly by law enforcement. On the other hand, some advocates report the Gainesville Police Department has taken positive steps to keep open lines of communication with advocates, and to work with advocates to minimize and resolve conflicts between homeless persons and police officials.
Healdsburg City Council unanimously passed an anti-camping law in October in an effort to discourage homeless people from camping on public and private property, such as Healdsburg’s railroad tracks and streambeds. The law imposes a $100 fine for offenses and up to 30 days in jail for repeat offenses. Critics of the law believe that the city’s penalties target poor people, as well as migrant workers, who cannot afford to live in the area.
Hawaii County is calling for the eviction of 50 homeless people from county land, many of who have lived there for years, a “restoration of a shoreline area.” Hawaii County will provide shipping containers for the residents’ belongings, as well as offer other services from area agencies. Billy Kenoi, the Mayor’s executive assistant, noted, “It’s a difficult housing market. It’s not possible to find housing for everybody.”
Approximately 200 demonstrators rallied at the Capitol Building to call attention to the plight of homeless people in April 2005. The protesters asked legislators to fund more homeless programs and shelters, and urged them to repeal Act 50, a law aimed at removing squatters from public parks and beaches. Bob Nakata, pastor of the Kahalu’u United Methodist Church, noted, “Legally there’s no place a homeless person can be except in a shelter and the shelters are full.” In addition, the ACLU of Hawaii challenged the constitutionality of the law in federal court, arguing the law is too vague and could be used to ban anyone from public property for any reason. Consequently, both houses of the legislature voted to repeal Act 50 in part.
In addition, Margot Schrine of Partners in Care says sweeps are conducted throughout the island on an ongoing basis, as well as being instigated by neighborhood resident complaints. According to Schrine, these raids make it difficult for outreach workers to serve people living on beaches or in parks.
Under a new ordinance proposed by Police Chief Rick Staples and passed by the City Council in September 2005, panhandling cannot occur after dark or in groups; if panhandlers are refused, they are prohibited from following anyone. Panhandlers also cannot target persons in “captive” situations, such as standing in line. Staples assured hesitant council members that police officers would explain the parameters of the ordinance to homeless shelters and individuals before enforcement occurred. A violation of the ordinance is a misdemeanor charge with an accompanying $50 fine.
The city of Jacksonville attempted to reduce the visibility of nearly 600 homeless persons for Super Bowl XXXIX. With funding from a variety of sources, Emergency Services and the Homeless Coalition of Jacksonville opened a temporary homeless shelter specifically for those displaced in Super Bowl planning. Despite criticism, officials insisted that the temporary shelter was not an attempt to hide homeless people from crowds of visitors. While the city exhibited a pressing need for additional shelter space, the temporary shelter opened only two weeks before the Super Bowl and closed the day after the event.
With the help of some local shelters, two new ordinances went into effect in October 2005 to stop street and park distribution of food. The more established shelters have been complaining about several church outreach programs that feed and distribute personal items on the street and in parks. The established shelters are complaining that the street programs are reducing their numbers of service recipients which could have an effect on future grant applications. There is a segment of the homeless population that will not enter the shelters because of their strict conduct rules or indoctrination programs.
Picketers, including several members of the Kalamazoo Homeless Action Network (KHAN), gathered in front of a local McDonald’s to slow down business at lunchtime in April 2005. The group protested discriminatory practices against homeless and poor people, such as McDonald’s 30-minute limit for consuming food. According to the spokesman for KHAN, Mike Kilbourne, the sign stating the 30-minute rule is being used as a “weapon of degradation” against […] poor and homeless [people], because it is enforced arbitrarily. Kilbourne believes the downtown Kalamazoo McDonald’s “has created a volatile situation in the north side of Kalamazoo due to discrimination of poor and homeless customers.”
In addition, many homeless people complained about police intimidation and humiliation at an August 2005 meeting of the Kalamazoo Homeless Action Network. Public Safety Officers also swept a homeless camp in Mayors’ Riverfront Park, in preparation for a trailway as part of the city’s long-term redevelopment river project. On August 20, 2005, the police arrested nearly 12 homeless people for trespassing in Johnson-Howard Lumber Company’s offices and warehouse. Kalamazoo County District Judge Vincent Westra fined all the trespassers $100 or community service. Kilbourne told the City Commission that “the city has picked a fight with poor” in its recent camp sweeps and uneven enforcement of trespassing and camping ordinances.
Kansas City, MO
The Homeless Services Coalition of Greater Kansas City partnered with the National Coalition for the Homeless to be a field site for the National Homeless Civil Rights Organizing Project. The project was created to challenge practices and policies that discriminate against homeless people, as well as individuals who criminalize homelessness. One of the main goals is to document civil rights abuses of homeless people through interviews and surveys. In Kansas City, the Homeless Services Coalition found that the police on the street frequently stopped homeless people, because “they looked suspicious.” In addition, many homeless individuals reported being verbally or physically abused by police officials. One homeless man commented, “They have pushed me against the police car, searched my coat, kicked me, and knocked me to the ground.” There are several laws in Kansas City associated with homelessness, which prohibit aggressive begging, loitering, trespassing, and camping.
Lake Worth, FL
In an attempt to curb the hiring of laborers on city streets in January 2005, the Lake Worth police started handing out fliers warning employers that knowingly hiring undocumented workers is illegal. The police described the move as a safety measure aimed at preventing employers from stopping in the middle of busy downtown streets during morning rush hour. Immigrant advocates claimed that the measure is illegal and discriminatory, as well as negatively affects those who wait for work. “When you have the local police acting as the Border Patrol, you have pandemonium. […] If the police want to solve the traffic problem, they should ticket the drivers and pedestrians who block the streets,” argued Marisol Zequiera Burke, an immigration lawyer. Cheryl Little, director of the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center, adds, “It’s another troubling sign that the welcome mat has been pulled from under these communities.”
Long Beach, CA
In May 2005, a group of homeless men were given only twenty minutes to move their belongings before their encampment was bulldozed. Several highway patrol units and a police helicopter accompanied the bulldozers in case there were problems. Residents were told that the crews would not arrive until June. “So much for the city being honest with us,” one homeless man commented. Officials said that the removal of trees and undergrowth for the plantation of smaller trees and an irrigation system had been planned for a long time.
Some Macon officials and downtown business owners encouraged officials in Macon to follow in Atlanta’s footsteps by passing an aggressive, anti-panhandling ordinance. Councilman Cole Thomason, who supported the ordinance, said, “I’m sure they’re going to say it’s cold hearted [but] it’s a safety issue for people who go downtown.”
Most business owners are vehemently opposed to panhandling, and one businessman said panhandling is “definitely a problem and I’m definitely uncomfortable [because of it].” Tom Glennon, director of the Children’s Museum, added that panhandling is “threatening the existence of the children’s museum [and that] it is time for a panhandling ordinance.”
However, Councilman Alveno Ross, who represents the downtown area, did not support the measure. While Ross was not opposed to studying the issue, he does not think panhandling is one of “the worst issues pending. […] What are we going to do, just lock up all the poor people?” Reason prevailed, and the Council turned down the proposed ban. Atlanta advocates use the example to fuel the ongoing effort to get rid of the Atlanta law.
Memphis has in place an anti-panhandling law that requires a permit to panhandle and prohibits panhandling at any public transportation stop, in any public transportation vehicle, or in any vehicle on the street of on private property without the owner’s permission. The law also prohibits aggressive panhandling, which includes using profane or abusive language, panhandling in a group of two or more, or acting in an intimidating or physically obstructive manner. Further, it is forbidden to misrepresent the purpose of the donation, such as that it is for food when it is for illegal drugs, or that the panhandler is stranded or homeless, when he or she is not. The penalty for violating the law is no more than $50 per offense.
According to a 1999 report, entitled “Helping the Progress Continue: Improving Public Spaces in Memphis,” which first established Memphis’s panhandling policy, “downtown business owners and residents understand that vibrancy and progress are not possible…if going into a Downtown store or coffee shop is a gauntlet of panhandling, litter, or people sprawled out on the sidewalk.” In July 2005, Memphis’s Center City Commission agreed to distribute pamphlets, which Janet Plaff, the Center City Commission’s Vice President of Operations, hopes will educate the public that “giving panhandlers cash only [enables] self-destructive behaviors.” Memphis is also tracking other cities’ responses to panhandling in hopes of creating a better solution to their homeless problem.
According to Constance Graham, Executive Director of the Greater Memphis Interagency Coalition for the Homeless, good relations with the police department have enabled her organization to successfully fight against harsher restrictions against homeless people in the area. However, Graham also recognizes that good relations with city officials are sometimes difficult to build, and in many cases, are rather time-consuming. However, she credits Memphis’s small size with their success.
Miami city officials are contemplating a law forbidding charitable organizations and individuals from feeding homeless people in city parks and public streets. Ben Burton, Executive Director for the Miami Coalition of the Homeless, believes criminalization of homelessness is not “a good idea […and that] the goal [should be] accessibility, so that they can get a meal, better services [such as shelter, counseling, and washrooms] and head them in a direction of continual care.” Violators of the proposed law would face fines or arrest. City Manager Joe Arriola stated that once the proposed indoor feeding program is in place, anyone who continues to feed homeless people outdoors would be prosecuted. The indoor feeding program was developed by the Miami Coalition for the Homeless and would involve three to five feeding locations. The program has no plans to transport homeless people to and from locations, which according to Sean Cononie, CEO and founder of the Homeless Voice, is integral to the program’s success. Cononie said, “They can’t pop a squat anywhere. They have to sleep on their own turf.” Moreover, some homeless people argued that the food on the streets is fresher than the food in the shelter.
Burton expands upon the problem in his area in this way: “[…] there has been a proliferation of ordinances put forth and in some cases passed [such as in Miami Beach] against sex offenders that would in essence make them homeless in the County, the City, and several other municipalities. Also, Miami Beach has passed a passive panhandling ordinance last year that they are looking at amending and not for the profit of people experiencing homelessness. There is also concern in Miami that over 600 public housing residents may be evicted if a family member has been charged [or] convicted of a crime.”
The documentary film, Illegal to be Homeless, was shown in December 2004 to raise public awareness about homelessness. The documentary reveals how city laws make homelessness illegal without providing homeless people with adequate shelter. In the film, several homeless men and women describe police confiscating their tents and makeshift homes. “One of the problems is there is nowhere to go…police will break up and destroy homeless camps, and there is nothing being done to help them,” commented Margaret Hastings, the film’s director. City ordinances prohibit people from setting up temporary housing, such as tents, on both public and private property. While the film looked to the city government for assistance, Councilman Dean Zimmerman said that there was little the city can do. “Our budget is very tight. We are cutting back way beyond what we should because of the tremendous budget hits we have taken,” said Zimmerman. Yet Zimmerman acknowledges that “[there] is no real shortage of housing. There is a shortage of money for people to pay for housing, and as long as this dislocation is there, there will be people on the street.” In other words, there is a shortage of affordable housing for many.
Homeless advocates pressed the city to change city ordinances, arguing that trying to survive on the streets comes into conflict with existing laws. Mackenzie Black, who is formerly homeless, commented that she has had to do things that she knew were illegal, such as camping downtown, because she had no other options.
In response to laws criminalizing homelessness, the Community Advisory Board on Homelessness (CABH) pressured local governments to repeal discriminatory ordinances. The CABH conducted an extensive review of city laws, concluding that homeless people often face criminal charges, civil penalties, or unofficial harassment by police officers. Recommendations submitted to the city included repealing or changing ordinances that prohibit camping, trespassing, panhandling, loitering, and public urination. The CABH also asked for stronger police protocols, as well as the repeal of the state vagrancy statute. In early April 2005, the Minneapolis City Council unanimously voted to support the CABH’s recommendation to repeal the State Vagrancy Statute and fund a Pilot Project for homeless outreach. The Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless led a successful effort at the Minnesota Legislature to repeal Minnesota’s Vagrancy Statute and secured $400,000 for a new street outreach pilot project. The outreach pilot project will fund several new outreach workers in Minneapolis and explicitly requires collaboration between outreach workers and law enforcement. The successful argument to secure this funding centered on promoting effective alternatives to the criminal justice response to homelessness.
The Minneapolis City Police suggested a plan to license panhandlers in a move to curtail downtown street begging. The free licenses would theoretically allow the city to prevent activity that some say is annoying to pedestrians and hurts downtown businesses. The idea is based on an ordinance in Dayton, Ohio, that requires panhandlers to register with the city and display photo ID in order to solicit a passerby. It also prohibits panhandling after sunset or before sunrise. Homeless advocates working to decriminalize homelessness argued that the licenses would be a step in the wrong direction. Robert Yellow Wolf, a homeless man panhandling on an interstate off-ramp, called the plan “ridiculous” but said, “when you’re homeless, you have no say.” Other panhandlers worried that the police would confiscate IDs to hassle them.
In 2004, a state court overturned Minneapolis’ anti-begging law finding it violated First Amendment rights to free speech. In response, the City Council unanimously approved a new law that bans “aggressive solicitation,” including intimidation, repeated soliciting, physical contact, abusive language, or intentionally blocking traffic.
Myrtle Beach, SC
Myrtle Beach attracts more homeless people than surrounding areas, and local leaders are torn between being socially-responsible and fiscally-minded as the city tries to foster its tourism and convention industries. In Myrtle Beach, a growing segment of residents complain that the presence of homeless people is hurting the city’s efforts to redevelop the downtown business district. However, fluctuating employment and high housing prices cause many people to lose permanent housing, joining the growing number of homeless persons downtown, where shelters and community kitchens exist.
Besides outlawing panhandling, Myrtle Beach has yet to address homelessness on a grand scale. Some businesses fear relocating downtown, because panhandlers project an unsafe image for both employees and customers. A homeless man mentioned that, “police intimidate and threaten homeless so they leave the city, or at least the city parks and beaches. It’s a family-oriented town, so they try to run them off. If you don’t keep yourself walking, they lock you up.”
One city resident has said, “As long as we cater to them [homeless persons], they won’t go away. They’re hurting the local people, they’re hurting the local economy, [and] they’re nothing but leeches.”
In March of 2005, the Homeless-Police Relations Working Group sent a formal proposal to the Nashville Police Academy, suggesting ways to improve relationships between cadets and officers and homeless outreach workers, such as a service center field day and interactive workshops for cadets or new officers. The proposals addressed the Police Academy’s frustration with homeless advocates who come to them with grievances rather than concrete solutions.
The Metro Police and several area business owners began a campaign to address panhandling in May 2005, arguing that it is better for people to keep their money rather than fund alcohol or drug addictions. Officials posted signs encouraging people to donate directly to service providers instead of giving money to panhandlers. Police and merchants want to make visiting downtown a “more pleasurable experience,” and they believe that the campaign may be so successful that they will not have not to prohibit panhandling in many sections of downtown. While the fliers and signs were met with support from many business owners, some businesspeople do not think it will work. For instance, George Gruhn, owner of Gruhn Guitars, commented that “structural solutions” would be more useful.
Pressure from the ACLU prompted the New Jersey Transit to renew efforts to ensure that homeless people are not discriminated against at train and bus stations. Both groups had been negotiating for several months and were optimistic that litigation could be avoided. When the weather grew colder, the ACLU received several complaints from homeless individuals, who had been told to leave the rail and bus stations. The NJ Transit did not plan to change any of its policies regarding homeless people, but instead wanted to make sure that its employees applied them consistently. The agency’s code of conduct prohibits disrobing or bathing in station bathrooms, spitting, urinating, or defecating in public, drinking alcohol, panhandling, blocking access to seats and entering non-public areas of the transit.
Richard Kreimer, a homeless man who gained national attention when he sued the Morris Township public library over its treatment of him, also sued the NJ Transit for at least $5 million in damages. Kreimer filed the suit, because police told him that he was loitering on a bench outside the Summit train station. “As soon as you walk into a train station and you look like a bum, the cops come over to you,” said Kreimer. A few months later, Kreimer sued a bus company, alleging that it refused to allow him and other homeless men to board buses while allowing clean-cut passengers to ride. In each instance, he claimed that he had a valid ticket for the bus but was prevented from boarding.
Officials in wealthy, suburban Summit, New Jersey are using the USA Patriot Act to justify forcing homeless people to leave a train station – an action that sparked a $5 million federal lawsuit by Kreimer. Officials argue they are protected by a provision in the Act regarding attacks and other violence against mass-transportation systems. However, Edward Barocas, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, said in The Seattle Times, that their defense is weak. “Nothing in the Patriot Act lets them kick homeless [people] out of train stations and such action is unlawful,” said Barocas.
In March 2005, community leaders argued that a proposed anti-loitering ordinance and passage of legislation prohibiting panhandling came dangerously close to violating the civil rights of poor people and minorities. “The belief down here on the street is that developers are moving in and they want a lot of folks down here out. And when you propose ordinances such as those, it kind of reinforces that,” said Common Councilman Carvin Hilliard. Abraham Heisler, a Norwalk housing attorney, countering the city’s argument, disagrees, “The law already says you can’t create a public disturbance or engage in disorderly conduct […] So why do we need new statutes unless it’s to keep poor people out of designated parts of town?”
Both ordinances were written in response to business owners’ complaints about panhandling and loitering in municipal parking lots or on public sidewalks outside of their stores. Former Mayor William Collins revealed that “the people that live around or come in on business and want to be entertained there are somewhat dissuaded by the fact that they have to share the turf with some very poor people.” Supporters of the ordinances argued that they would improve the quality of life and provide the police with a way to crack down on drug dealing and inappropriate behavior. However, Reverend Lindsey Curtis, president of the Norwalk NAACP, believes that the city should seek other alternatives, such as offering more homeless services or building a youth center, when addressing panhandling or youth loitering in Norwalk.
A local chapter of Food, Not Bombs was asked by security guards and police officers to leave a public area when they tried to feed homeless men and women. They were told inaccurately that they needed a permit to feed homeless people and that all of downtown was a “no feeding” zone. Some police officers have told them that feeding homeless people is legal, but other police officers have threatened to arrest them. The leader of Orlando’s Food, Not Bombs, Missy Zandy, said that the group has no plans to stop handing out food, asking, “You can feed the pigeons, but you can’t feed the homeless [people]?” In response to a similar incident, Ripple Effect founder Kelly Franklin said, “We’re tired of this ‘you can’t be here’ crap.”
Palo Alto, CA
In a survey of Palo Alto business owners, loitering and panhandling received the most votes as an “urgent concern” to the downtown business area. Some merchants contend that perennial loiterers, panhandlers, and people who habitually nap or sit on public sidewalks are nuisances who detract from the upscale ambiance of University Avenue. One area resident said, “We should run them out of town.”
Business owners are pressing for stricter enforcement of the “sit/lie” ordinance that states, “No person shall sit or lie down upon the public sidewalk, or upon a blanket, chair, stool, or any other object placed upon the public sidewalk adjacent to either side of University Avenue…during the hours of 11 a.m. and 11 p.m.” The business community is also hoping to replace some of the benches with others that aren’t as comfortable to dissuade people from napping or sitting for long periods of time.
The concerns of business owners that homeless people harm local business interests stand in stark contrast to tax figures that show that the University Avenue district is having its best sales period in two years. One local business owner said he finds the homeless population harmless, “It hasn’t bothered us. They have a good level of self-control.”
Patchogue Village, NY
In November 2005, Patchogue Village executed “Operation Clean-Sweep Patchogue,” a citywide crackdown on “quality of life” issues, such as drinking in public, loitering, and panhandling. Patchogue Justice Christopher P. McGuire will open the Village Justice Court some weeknights and weekends to arraign the violators, so the influx will not interfere with regular court proceedings. According to Mayor Paul Pontieri, “[this] is an effort to put a stop to violations such as drinking in public, loitering, panhandling, and other quality-of-life violations. This effort will further improve the quality-of-life for our residents and make Patchogue a more attractive place for people to dine, shop, and enjoy a show.”
In July 2005, police received calls from concerned residents about a group of homeless men who lived in tents along the banks of the Pompton River, citing intoxication as their biggest concern. The city sent officials to the wooded river area to both clean up the garbage in the camp and drive the men from the area with state permission. However, Tim Carlucci, a Paterson resident and member of Calvary Temple, believes, “The problem is more than homelessness. There is a drug and alcohol problem in that area, and it’s causing homelessness.”
In December 2004, Portland took steps to address the problem of homelessness when it announced a new 10 year plan to end homelessness. The plan focuses on moving people directly into affordable housing instead of crowding them into shelters. While homeless advocates support the plan, they object to the city’s recent criminalization of homelessness.
The Portland City Council expanded the list of offenses within city parks, as well as passed another ordinance that permits the police to arrest anyone who obstructs pedestrian traffic downtown.
A fatal shooting in December 2004 left many shoppers and business owners questioning the safety of downtown Portland. Although the shooting was not related to panhandling, merchants argued that the shooting demonstrated that the city has not done enough to curb panhandling and improve the downtown’s image. Despite complaints, Police Bureau statistics show that the city is much safer than it was in the 1990s. Reported crimes dropped by thirty percent from 1996 to 2003.
“Panhandling is misunderstood,” argued the Sisters of the Road Cafe in May 2005. They pointed to a recent study analyzing data from 522 interviews with homeless men and women. Only 72 reported panhandling was an income source. The top three expenses that panhandling money went to were tobacco, food and hygiene items, or money for laundry. Only 25 of 72 panhandled for drugs or alcohol. The data corresponded to what the Sisters of the Road Cafe have been telling people for years: panhandling buys food after the rent is paid and food stamps are spent.
Letters to the Street Roots newspaper detailed a discussion centered on an aggressive anti-panhandling law that was being considered in June 2005, including sentiments that the criminalization of panhandling was mean-spirited and unworthy of its citizens. A local resident commented that she had never felt threatened or intimidated by a single panhandler on the streets, and if there are individuals on the street assaulting, raping, mugging, or harassing others, you already have laws in place to deal with them.
Also in Portland, Wayne Stump, who is homeless by choice on a campaign called Dignity Matters, says he does not agree with recent ideas that city leaders have raised to quell concerns about panhandling in the downtown area. City commissioners have suggested posting signs urging people to give money to social service agencies rather than panhandlers. Portland police also are researching programs in other cities that require a license to panhandle. Stump mentions in the Portland Tribune, “I am willing to spend 365 days outdoors if it will help get the City Council’s attention and stop putting more bans on panhandling.”
In addition, Portland anti-nuisance policies designed to keep people off public property and out of public places increasingly target homeless people. Under pressure from businesses, local officials have taken a tough stance against a growing homeless population, imposing ordinances and policies to make areas off-limits that were once a safe haven for people with nowhere to go. But the zero-tolerance tactic, meant to improve the city's livability, has backfired. The “hidden homeless” are now spilling into neighborhoods and downtown corridors, as well as onto doorsteps of businesses and homes, fueling a perception that Portland's homeless problem is worse than ever.
Business leaders, fed up with aggressive panhandlers and loiterers, have advocated for tighter restrictions on the homeless population, who they say drive away shoppers and tourists. In the 2004 Portland Business Alliance census and survey, downtown business owners and managers ranked panhandlers and “transients” as the top two factors needing improvement, over the cost of parking, taxes and business fees. In response, the Portland City Council passed a sidewalk ordinance in late 2004 under then-Mayor Vera Katz, giving police broad powers to ticket people for blocking downtown walkways. The ordinance, a pilot project in effect until May 2006, makes it illegal for people to sit in front of businesses with their legs extended or drape their belongings over sidewalks during business hours. It also prohibits blocking window displays and sitting in the downtown bus mall.
Police must warn violators before citing them, says Central Precinct Commander Dave Benson, and only a few tickets have been issued since early May 2005. At the same time, the council expanded its enforcement of ordinances regulating city parks, increasing the number of offenses that can get a person thrown out without warning, as well as lengthening the time – up to 90 days – a person can be barred from re-entering a park. Sidewalk and park ordinances carry penalties up to $500 or six months in jail. The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) has also clamped down on common campsites under bridges and freeway overpasses. After spending $15,000 over time to routinely sweep campers off of state property and removing dump trucks of debris, ODOT maintenance and operations manager Karla Keller came up with a new solution, called "transient deterrent fencing." In the past two years, the state has installed about 27 cages over common homeless camp sites, using money for potholes to pay for fencing and planting roses in grassy dividers. "What we're trying to avoid is being a maid service," Keller says. "We don't want them just moving back in. It's a revolving expenditure for us."
The ODOT continues its work by using strategically placed barriers to shut down illegal campsites under Portland’s bridges in hopes of enforcing the state law that prohibits illegal camping in the interest of health and safety. The camps are sometimes dangerous because they may be located close to busy highways or rail tracks. They also draw complaints from neighbors and nearby business owners, who accuse the transients of breaking into cars, vandalizing property, and other crimes.
The ODOT collaborates with Portland police officers to sweep people out from under the bridges, giving at least 24 hours notice before removal and storage of personal belongings for 30 days. Advocates for the homeless population say ordinances that make it illegal for people to be in public places unfairly target those with nowhere else to go. According to Ed Johnson, a lawyer with the Oregon Law Center, there are no daytime drop-in centers, and many emergency shelters close during the day, forcing people into the streets every morning. Anti-nuisance ordinances sweep the poor out of sight, he says, without offering real solutions to poverty.
In November 2005, Portland Mayor Tom Potter unveiled his new strategies to fight crime in the downtown area. One new strategy would place an immediate 9 p.m. curfew in the South Park blocks, an area that has been the source of several complaints from business owners and residents. Pedestrians can still walk through the park but anyone “loitering, harassing visitors or using the park to camp will be arrested,” Potter said.
An ordinance regulating panhandling was proposed by City Councilor Laura Pantelakos after several men approached her with buckets asking for money. “I want panhandlers – anybody who is going to panhandle in our city – to be identified, and I do not want them to be allowed to go out in the streets to chase the people," said Pantelakos. When she complained to the police, they responded that the city has no regulations governing panhandlers. The city has received few complaints about panhandlers. Critics of the proposed ordinance questioned why the law was necessary given that the city has disorderly conduct and vagrancy charges for anyone exhibiting aggressive or menacing behavior. An editorial in The Portsmouth Herald believes the ordinance “[…] could give the city the ability to simply sweep the streets of those who are down on their luck; to put them somewhere they will not be seen or interfere with the moneyed gentry who now occupy this once shoddy and rowdy Seacoast town.”
As the weather grows warmer, the Portsmouth Police Department receives more complaints about homeless men and women. Residents of Greenleaf Avenue said people were living in the brush near their backyards. The police explained that as the seasons change, homeless people are more likely to be found in wooded areas and around the railroads. People with alcohol and drug problems are also more prone to camp outside than stay in cramped, regulated homeless shelters.
Over the past year, Portsmouth police have arrested 42 residents of the Cross Roads House homeless shelter. The local police department also issued 36 no-trespass orders to residents at the 600 Lafayette Road Shelter, six citations for people living in the wooded area behind it, and even more no-trespass orders for the woods behind Margaritas restaurant, an area known as “Tent City” for its homeless encampments. Meanwhile, beat officers move some of the homeless population off park benches and
railroad tracks, as well as out of neighborhood backyards and cemeteries.
Rapid City, SD
Food Not Bombs, an organization that serves meals to homeless people in the back parking lot of Prairie Market, was told to stay off the property. Businesses and residents in the area had concerns about the feeding program. Capt. Steve Allender of the Rapid City Police Department said that Food Not Bombs’ meal program “creates additional problems in an area people are trying to improve.” Allender went on to say that, “I’ve talked with business owners who believe they’ll have to move from the East Boulevard area because they can no longer tolerate the transient people in that area.” However, Food, Not Bombs’ lead volunteer, Ashley Heacock says the situation is “[…] frustrating [because we’re] not bringing people there. We’re there because they’re there.”
Redondo Beach City, CA
A federal court extended its order prohibiting the city of Redondo Beach from arresting day laborers for violating a local ordinance against soliciting work in public. The court found that there are “serious questions” about whether the city’s day laborer ordinance is constitutional. The city’s laborer ordinance has been on the books since 1987, but the city increased enforcement in October. Dozens of men were arrested by undercover police officers posing as people seeking to hire workers. The court’s ruling suspends arrests against day laborers until a lawsuit challenges the ruling.
Since a new panhandling ordinance went into effect in June 2005, 40 people have been arrested because of “aggressive panhandling.” Residents and city officials agreed that people stopping cars on the street, or asking people for money has declined. The ordinance bans panhandling in garages, bus shelters, skyways, and tunnels, and near banks and ATMs, and makes it illegal to harass people for money. Those caught violating the law face fines and a second violation results in a 15-day jail sentence. Homeless advocates argue that the law does little to address the problems behind panhandling. “I think our system has unfortunately failed these people,” said Rita Lewis, who works with homeless people at the House of Mercy. David Atias, a local activist, added, “[he] was disappointed that rather than look at something that was long-term and actually worked on the real problem, they [the city of Rochester] went for what appeared to be a quick fix.” Many of those who panhandle are both impoverished and suffering from mental disabilities and addictions that cannot be cured by incarceration.
The city’s law on illegal camping brought homeless man Michael “Gremlin” Tinius, 44, before a jury where he tried to challenge one of his illegal camping charges as well as laws that ban homeless people from camping in alleys, doorways, and along the river. Sacramento County Park Ranger Tim McElheney said rangers have warned Tinius 29 times and arrested him 14 times since 1999 for illegal camping, drinking in public or having his dog off a leash. Rangers also destroyed his paperwork rendering him unable to apply for benefits that provide him with housing and opportunities for work and services.
Tinius is certainly not the only person experiencing homelessness to have to deal with the burden of unlawful camping tickets. In the fiscal year 2004-2005, 858 unlawful camping cases went in front of the city attorney. Police officer, Mark Zoulas, reports that one man went to jail ten times for a single unlawful camping offense. These cases represent hours of work by police officers, city attorneys, judges, public defenders, and jail employees. Assistant Public Defender, Tommy Clinkenbeard, argues that those resources would be more effective if they were reallocated to shelters and services that help homeless people get off the streets. “Anybody with half a brain and even the IQ of a rock has to know that this isn’t doing any good,” said Clinkenbeard.
Advocates argue that ticketing for activities that are inherent to homelessness turns a social problem into a criminal one. Once a ticket is issued, a vicious cycle begins whereby the unpaid ticket turns into a warrant, which then leads to arrest. Arrest then hinders a person’s ability to find employment, an apartment, and access to services. “It’s like you’ve got to pay a fine to the police for being homeless,” said a local homeless man, Prentice Wysingle, III. The penalty for an unlawful camping ticket can be a fine of up to $147, jail time, or community service.
Salt Lake City, UT
The city library system launched a new civility campaign designed to teach homeless men and women, as well as children, how to behave while in the library. The campaign was in response to the main library being filled with homeless people, who sometimes bother other library patrons with their odor, intoxication, or noise. “We tend to be a de facto shelter during the day for a lot of homeless,” library systems administrator Chip Ward said. Library administrations also planned to begin communication and collaboration with social service providers. Library systems director Nancy Tessman said that the library acts as a barometer for the homeless population with regard to the rest of the city. “We know that the numbers [of homeless persons] are increasing, and the needs are not being met.”
San Bruno, CA
Enforcement of an ordinance restricting drinking in parks was seen by several homeless men and women as an effort to create hardship and displace them. John Redmond, a homeless man living in San Bruno, said, “We are not happy about the new law. It keeps us hiding and on the move. It makes our lives more difficult – if that’s possible.” The city claimed that the law was not targeted at homeless people, but rather designed to control visitors who generate empty beer bottles when renting picnic tables. However, Harry Costa, the city’s former Chamber of Commerce CEO, said he would be happy if the new law succeeded in dispersing homeless people. “I think that the homeless are bad for anybody’s business…anything that will help clean up the community a bit helps.”
San Diego, CA
In a lawsuit filed against the City of San Diego and the San Diego Police Department, a group of volunteer lawyers accused the police of violating the constitutional rights of homeless San Diego residents by ticketing or arresting them for sleeping in public. The plaintiffs argue that tickets and arrests for illegal lodging violate their constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of nine homeless persons who were issued tickets on nights when social service agencies had no shelter beds available. These plaintiffs represented between 4,000 to 5,000 homeless people who live in San Diego and have no place to go because of lack of available shelter beds in the city.
One of the lawyers, Tom Cohelan, commented, “The issue is whether being homeless is a status crime – whether homeless [people] are being prosecuted for existing.” Cohelan and the other lawyers wanted the federal court to stop the police from issuing tickets unless the city provides a safe zone where homeless persons can sleep without fear of being cited. They noted that the increase in citations points to a systematic attempt to push homeless people out of certain parts of the city.
In April 2005, the police and prosecutors launched a homeless sweep along the San Diego River that displaced several camps. They offered homeless men and women treatment programs and housing. Sentences for drugs and stolen property ranged from volunteer work to mandatory participation in detoxification centers.
San Luis Obispo, CA
Library employees were given the authority to tell homeless people to leave the premises when an informal rule against foul smelling patrons became official in February 2005. Under this policy, patrons who are kicked out can be denied access to the library if they refuse to leave. Critics of the policy commented that the community should look into providing free shower facilities and public bathrooms rather than kicking people out of the library.
Santa Cruz, CA
Attorneys Kate Wells and David Beauvais, acting on behalf of several homeless organizations and advocates, sent a letter to the City Council in December 2004 outlining plans to challenge specific city ordinances in court. The ordinances in question were ones that “injure and prejudice” homeless people. They included laws that forbid sleep between 11 P.M. and 8:30 A.M. anywhere in public, prohibit covering up with blankets during the same hours, and prohibit protecting oneself with a tent or tarp overnight. Wells and Beauvais described the ordinances as unconstitutional, inconsistently applied, and morally unacceptable. Wells called for the city to take immediate positive steps to address the criminalization of homeless people in Santa Cruz. Wells asked that the city suspend the sleeping, blanket, and camping bans throughout the winter or designate safe places, and dismiss all present and past citations issued when all emergency shelter space was full. Last winter in Santa Cruz, there was shelter space for only 160 people; there is an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 people experiencing homelessness. The attorneys believe that these laws force homeless individuals to hide from law enforcement, thereby denying them the safety of camping or sleeping together. They also believe it discourages homeless people from using police services for protection, makes it riskier to sleep near emergency services, and exposes homeless women to greater risk of rape.
In October 2005, the Sheriff’s Office cleared a homeless encampment located between Carbonera Creek and the county governments’ Emeline Street complex. The camp was known for some of the criminal activity that took place there, including drug sales and use. It was also cited as an environmental hazard and a safety hazard to the public. All of the campers had cleared out before the Sheriff’s Office arrived and no arrests were made. Ken Cole, Executive Director of the Homeless Services Center, noted that, “Although the Police Department might have good environmental and safety reasons [for dismantling the camp] the reality is there is no place for […] homeless [people] to go. There are not enough emergency shelters, not enough housing, not enough drug and alcohol treatment centers. What the police are doing is moving the problem onto another greenbelt area.”
According to the 2005 Homeless Survey Census, there are at least 3,371 homeless people in the county, 79% of which are without shelter.
Despite the Savannah Homeless Authority’s 2004 report that the city’s ordinance, which prohibits begging, street performers, and spitting, has cut the city’s homeless population from 7,000 to 3,500, homeless people attest they have just learned to hide in order to survive on Savannah streets. Aggressive police force has been used since 2002 to send violators to jail, in which mandatory work programs are a part of their sentence. These same work programs would provide temporary paid employment for homeless individuals before their arrests. Many service providers are reluctant to criticize the city’s policies, because they are worried their funding will be severed.
Sioux Falls, SD
As a result of complaints about litter, loitering, parking violations and human waste outdoors, the City Council began to consider an ordinance that would regulate temporary employment offices, such as Labor Ready. It should be noted that the Health Department visited and cleared Labor Ready on two occasions. The law would ban temporary employment agencies within 2,000 feet of each other and within 1,000 feet of a public park, elementary, or high school. Offices would also be required to provide indoor waiting areas and restrooms. Agencies would have to submit a smoking policy and employee training procedures and then describe how they would supervise waiting workers. Offices next door to residentially zoned areas would not be able to operate between 8 P.M. and 6 A.M. Labor Ready district manager, Dale Erickson, commented, “We’re doing all these things [that the ordinance prescribes], except for the hours. We can’t have our hours of operation dictated. Our customers expect us to be open so we can get workers there on time safely.” Labor Ready branch manager, Olivia Hendrickson adds, “A lot of families live paycheck to paycheck, and when that job isn’t there all of a sudden, they need somewhere to go. I don’t feel like people in this process have wanted to hear how we were able to get people on less public assistance or help them put food on the table or pay an electric bill.”
A proposal for a new city ordinance will be forwarded to the Sioux Falls planning commission and could be ready for the City Council in November 2005. The proposed ordinance would require groups wanting to open temporary or emergency shelters to seek a conditional use permit from the city, locate at least 1,000 feet from a school, seek a compatible location that would not harm the existing neighborhood, hold a neighborhood meeting before the conditional-use permit was sought, and submit a site and security plan for the shelter.
In August 2005, police in Somerville became suspicious of a homeless man, who they mistakenly believed to be a terrorist posing as a homeless person. Upon questioning, they discovered he had a passport from a “country of interest,” such as a Middle Eastern or South Asian nation. Police approached the man as he slept near the Davis Square Social Security Office, which is a federal building. He was apparently unfamiliar to officers, so they decided to question him. He was eventually released.
The U.S. government is now warning that terrorists may pose as “vagrants” to conduct surveillance of buildings and mass transit stations to plot future attacks. An e-mail that circulated among federal employees in Washington, D.C. warns police, fire and emergency personnel to be aware of “vagrants” who seem out of place or unfamiliar. The memo goes on to state that homeless people easily blend into urban landscapes and that “this is particularly true of our mass transit systems, where homeless tend to loiter unnoticed.”
Responding to complaints from business owners, the city passed tough, new panhandling and camping ordinances in February 2005. Under the new ordinance it is illegal to panhandle in an “aggressive” manner or obstruct traffic, panhandle on public transportation, within 20 feet of a check cashing business, supermarket, retail store or automated teller machine without consent from the owner. The newly passed camping ordinance makes it illegal to camp on public or private property without permission of the owners. If permission is given, camping must not be done in a way that creates a “nuisance.” It is also illegal to live in a car or recreational vehicle, on public or private streets, alleys, and parking areas.
First time offenders can receive a citation and a fine for $300, while repeat offenders can be charged with a misdemeanor, jailed, and fined up to $500. “I’m shocked by this professional abuse of power. Where do we go? We’re not cockroaches,” said homeless veteran, Julie Bell.
The new ordinance has all but cleared out the visible face of homelessness. Some people have moved into a shelter, while most individuals moved just outside of town. Others went searching for a more tolerant city to call “home” or learned to “hide a little better.” Mary Buckley, Executive Director of Plowshares, hopes that residents don’t think that the problems associated with homelessness stem from being too nice to them. She noted the housing shortage, high unemployment, and insufficient services for the mentally ill.
In December 2004, Ventura police and other authorities conducted a sprawling sweep of the riverbed area to uproot illegal encampments that have existed there off and on since World War II. Storage of people’s belongings was provided for 90-days and a three-day live-in triage called Camp Hope was set up. The camp’s goal was to assist people in planning for relocation, now that they would not be permitted to inhabit the river bottom, as well as provide them with medical and other services. Those encountered were relocated to the city’s warming shelter in midtown, which many young adults have vowed to avoid. In Ventura, there has been a growing number of younger faces that are becoming more and more visible on Main Street, which has led to public concern.
Police officers have also begun using certain “enforcement” tactics against homeless people in the downtown area. One such tactic is telling homeless individuals, who are sitting in the parks during daylight hours, that they are illegally camping and if they do not move on, they will be ticketed. There have also been reports of destruction of the property of homeless individuals and unlawful searches of bags and belongings. Additionally, the city has approached certain “legitimate” service providers to ask them to develop some agreement by which “nuisance offenders” would be denied services by these agencies. These offenders are defined as those who repeatedly engage in specific behaviors such as aggressive panhandling, urinating or defecating in public, drinking in public, public drunkenness, engaging in sexual acts in public, and other similar offenses.
To help battle the rising homeless population, Catholic Charities offered a 12-week, free culinary arts program for jobless people who want to enter the food service industry. Having a job may not be enough though. A local real estate consulting firm found that the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment is about $1,300 a month. A person earning
minimum wage would have to work 113-120 hours a week to afford that.
Officials evicted a group of homeless men and women under a bridge in Wahiawa citing health and safety issues as the reason. The Department of Transportation gave around 15 families two weeks notice to leave.
Students interviewed at George Washington University in January 2005 revealed that seeing homeless people on a daily basis required some adjustment when they first arrived in D.C. Students agreed that the campus does a good job of keeping homeless individuals off the campus. They were more likely to see them wandering the outskirts of campus. The university’s protocol prohibits homeless camps in the buildings or on the property. While some students expressed fondness for homeless people they see frequently, many students revealed that they felt uncomfortable walking home alone.
According to Ann Marie Staudenmaier, an attorney at the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, surveys conducted by the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless and the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty over the past few months show that various police agencies are unfriendly toward homeless people and frequently target them for harassment. These surveys show “[…] that both the Metro Police Department and U.S. Park Police […] frequently approach homeless persons who are not violating the law in any way and either demand to see their ID, search their bags, or move them out of the area.” Staudenmaier also notes that camp “sweeps” are prevalent, and that police may be violating city’s Memorandum of Understanding the Washington Legal Clinic helped draft, by not providing sufficient notice and not storing people’s belongings when clearing out public spaces.
Shocked at the sight of elaborate campsites set up along the river and in back alleys and bridges, Wichita police have begun brainstorming what can be done to address the number of homeless people crowding downtown parks and bridges. In June 2005, the police and city’s legal department began drafting an ordinance that would ban camping and tent-type structures inside city limits. Homeless service providers said that it was not enough to force homeless people to move out of downtown and from the river because they have nowhere to go. “My heart goes out to these guys. Most of the men I talk to would like to go to work. Some of them need job training -- maybe all they can do is construction work -- and a lot of the men don’t have the clothing they need to go out and look for work,” said Judy Epperson of the Wichita Homeless Coalition.
In April 2005, local merchants asked the City Council for help dealing with a number of homeless people disrupting business and harassing employees and customers. One business owner said, “My staff is afraid to stay there alone.” Nonetheless, they agreed that not all homeless men and women were the problem, only a small number who had obviously been drinking.
The Public Action to Deliver Shelter came under heat from the City Council because of claims that their “no drinking policy” was not being enforced. The shelter responded that their no drinking policy is strictly enforced and that there really is nothing it can do about controlling homeless behavior off site.
Mark Alston-Follansbee, executive director of the Somerville Homeless Coalition, said, “These are folks who are at the bottom of the barrel, and they get blamed for all kinds of problems in our society. I think if our society spent more thinking about helping them get homes, there’d be less of this kind of hysteria.”
In March 2005, Spokane began to address aggressive panhandling in a non-traditional way. Betty Findley, Vice President of Downtown Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), called for local charities that serve homeless people to “select frequently panhandled areas and solicit donations for their organized causes in competition with the individual panhandlers.” However, Sister Pattie Beattie of Interfaith Hospitality Network, asked, “Are there only homeless who are panhandling? [If not,] then we need to look at the wages we pay people.” In response to the proposal, the Spokane Homeless Coalition solicited the media and advertising companies to produce Public Service Announcements (PSAs) on homelessness in Spokane. The city does not plan on banning panhandling by passing new ordinances. “We already have enough ordinances on the books,” said Marilyn Saunders, the Director of Spokane COPS.
City officials supported an ordinance proposed in January 2005 that would ban encampments of homeless people in “tent cities,” by arguing that groups living in tents pose various hazards. The Springfield City Council acted in response to a six-month long tent city constructed by Arise for Social Justice. The hazards cited by officials included cleanliness and sanitary concerns depending on the availability of running waters and toilets, fires from cooking on campfires, and problems with alcohol and drugs. Even though neighbors complained about the tents, the police and fire officials said that the tent cities were virtually problem free.
The ordinance would also authorize fines of $50 a day, against private property owners that allow tent cities. “We don’t want to run into a situation where a landowner is going to allow this to take place and the police can’t go on private property,” said Councilor Angelo J. Puppolo, Jr. However, Springfield’s overnight shelter is only funded through March, making more tent cities possible in the near future.
After reports of crimes near Interstate 95 in January 2005, city and state officials swept a homeless camp, discarding people's beds and other belongings from under the highway. About twenty men lived under the highway, but only one stayed in a shelter after the sweep. The men that lived there would leave the area in the morning to find work as day laborers or go to steady jobs in the building trades.
Reverend Jerome H. Roberts of Shelter for the Homeless explains that outreach workers are all cognizant of people who choose not to live in shelters, a right which should be respected by both workers and city officials. Police address anyone they see loitering or sleeping in public places, such as the mall, although Roberts believes it is difficult to target homeless persons in Stamford, because the affluent community is not exposed to the homeless problem. With regard to panhandling, Roberts notes that stricter welfare laws and government time-constraints have made it more difficult for single individuals to secure benefits. While Stamford is a service-rich community, Roberts also points out that not all living expenses are covered by shelters and city-funded programs. He says, “Unless we are willing to tolerate felonies, we need to be flexible [about panhandling],” referring to the possibility that people might resort to more drastic measures to survive. He adds that “America is very quick to respond to needs outside its borders, but rather slow to respond to those in its own nation.”
St. Augustine, FL
Social service agencies reported serving more people since Jacksonville started cleaning up the city for Super Bowl XXXIX in January 2005. The Emergency Services and Homeless Coalition requested a temporary shelter to house additional homeless persons during the Super Bowl.
More specifically, Tammy Byrer of Saint Francis House says open container laws are routinely enforced against homeless people. There is also substantial pressure on City Hall to curb panhandling and loitering outside Saint Francis’s facilities, especially from the church across the street from the shelter. An overall gentrification of the area has created an unofficial policy to decrease the visibility of homelessness, because it detracts from tourism revenue. Byrer herself has been treated unprofessionally by police officers in her city during a meeting to discuss homeless issues. The City Council does not want to build a parking garage downtown, because they are afraid it would attract homeless people, especially overnight, and suggested that homeless people may rape tourists in the complex. In addition, the City Council has suggested moving Saint Francis House to rural Hasting, pushing both homeless people and services that aid them out of sight.
HOME | FULL REPORT (pdf) | Acknowledgements | Executive Summary | I. Trends in the Criminalization of Homelessness | II. Criminalization Measures Violate Constitutional Rights | III. Criminalization Measures Violate Human Rights Norms | IV. Constructive Alternatives to Criminalization | V. T op 20 Meanest Cities | VI. Meanest Cities’ Narratives | VII. Other Cities’ Narratives | VIII. CASES: Challenges to Restrictions on Sleeping, Camping, Sitting or Storing Property in Public Place [FEDERAL] [STATE] | Challenges to Anti-Begging, Anti-Soliciting and Anti-Peddling Laws | Challenges to Vagrancy, Loitering and Curfew Laws | Challenges to Restrictions on Feedings | Miscellaneous | IX. Prohibited Conduct Chart | X. APPENDIX:Survey Questions | Sample Know Your Rights Card | Sources for City Narratives |