Cities have turned to the criminal justice system
for housing, treatment, and even as a means of "disappearing"
This trend can only be reversed through the organizing
of homeless people and concerned advocates to hold policy makers and business
owners accountable for their actions and policies. Minneapolis, Philadelphia
and Ft. Lauderdale are all spotlighted in this report for their positive
steps towards ending the criminalization of people experiencing homelessness.
The Public Safety and Regulatory Services Committee
of the Minneapolis City Council ordered the Community Advisory Board on
Homelessness (CABH) to address building code issues and homelessness.
The result was the creation of a Decriminalization Task Force to "review
all laws, policies, and practices that have the effect of criminalizing
homelessness, and reporting back to the City and County with recommendations."
The Task Force sets the foundation for an increase
in social services and assistance as a pathway to ending the criminalization
of homelessness in Minneapolis. The following recommendations have been
presented to the City Council for discussion and approval.
1) Ordinance changes. These include the repealing
of an anti- camping ordinance and the rewording of other ordinances such
as trespassing, panhandling, loitering, shelter restrictions, interference
with traffic, and public urination.
2) Police Protocols. Training police to link homeless
people to services will meet the needs of homeless people while insuring
the protection of their civil rights. Changes include the requirement
of a complaint before police presence, a notice to campers before eviction,
referrals to providers, and improvements in the handling of property belonging
to those experiencing homelessness.
3) Vagrancy Charges. Vagrancy laws are remnants of
a previous era of law enforcement. Minnesotas vagrancy statute should
4) Public Testimony. Time should be allotted whereby
public testimony is scheduled to allow advocates and people who have or
are currently experiencing homelessness to come forward and speak to the
City Council and Mayor on the issues stated above.
These four items are part of a serious effort to address
some of the immediate issues homeless people encounter on a daily basis.
At the same time, CABH began dialogue between the City Attorneys
office, the Police Department, and the Civil Rights Department to deal
with long-term issues and create constructive alternatives to the criminalization
of homelessness. The Decriminalization Task Force will also conduct ongoing
discussions to address the following:
1) City Attorney Policies and Programs. Geographic
restrictions resulting in banishment in certain areas should be halted
and a less punitive approach should be taken towards people experiencing
2) Civilian Review Authority. In its role as a police
watchdog body, the Civilian Review Authority should work with homeless
providers to make it easier for people experiencing homelessness to report
3) Police Protocols. Mental health workers should
respond to calls involving those experiencing mental illness while 911
dispatchers should review procedures to see if more calls can be directed
to mental health workers.
4) Police Training and Instructions. All officers
should be instructed to treat every resident, even those experiencing
homelessness, with respect. In addition, officers should undergo training
on services that are available to people experiencing homelessness. Officers
would also be issued resource cards to guide people to appropriate services.
5) Police Positions/Services. A police officer should
be assigned to help homeless people who are perpetrators or victims of
crime and a mental health specialist position should be created to provide
training and services.
The action taken by CABH is a model proposal that
all cities should take to address and solve the criminalization of homelessness
in cities across the nation.
In contrast to many other cities across the nation,
the City of Philadelphia has reportedly found ways to reduce the number
of homeless people in the city without infringing on the civil rights
of people experiencing homelessness. Instead of pushing the problem around
the city, marginalizing people, or busing individuals to jail or out of
town, the city requires police officers to contact a social worker who
will respond within 20 minutes. For instance, homeless people sleeping
outside are referred to local shelter and transitional housing services
rather than being fined or arrested for camping or trespassing.
Through a combination of permanent housing, counseling
services, dedicated workers, and multiple 24-hour shelters, Philadelphia
has found a way to help the chronically homeless people of the city. Responsibility
for this progress is credited to Sister Mary Scullion, a nun who lives
and works with the people she dedicates her life to help. Her constant
pestering of local officials resulting in the building of hundreds of
housing units dedicated to help those with special needs. While reports
indicate Philadelphia has indeed removed nearly 75 percent of its chronically
homeless population from the streets, what this report intends to highlight
is the Citys method. Although Philadelphia may have criminalized
homeless people in the past, the City has decided to solve the problem
by providing homes instead of jail.
(C) Fort Lauderdale,
An outreach program in cooperation with the police
department and local services is comprised of one formerly homeless individual
and one police officer. After publicizing the pick-up point through street
contacts and service providers, the pair goes out each afternoon, where
they assess individuals one by one. Some individuals are sent to a shelter
for the night, some are given bus tickets to reunite with family, and
others are enrolled in long-term programs. By helping individuals get
off the streets and into shelters, the impact of criminalization has been
significantly decreased. Other police officers in the community are also
taking individuals to shelters rather than jail. Police are currently
conducting their own trainings, and educating officers about homelessness.
report in .pdf form | Introduction
| Background | Methodology
| Problem Statement/Consequences of Criminalization
| Model Programs | Conclusions
& Recommendations | The Cities Included
in this Report | Meanest Cities | Narratives
of the Meanest Cities | Narratives of the
Other Cities | Prohibited Conduct Chart
| Survey Questions | Incident
Report Form: English & Incident Report
Form: Spanish | Sources