#1 Little Rock,
In February of 2004, homeless service providers
recruited the police to assist in a count of the homeless population,
and were assured when the question was asked, that the police would not
use the knowledge of the locations of the camps to go back and clean the
camps out. The police reassured the service providers they would not use
the knowledge of the locations to do sweeps in the future. Several service
providers showed the police where the camps were on a map, and a formerly
homeless camper guided the police to camps that she knew of. A month later
the providers started hearing that the city was going to do sweeps of
these same camps.
A major effort was planned to remove homeless camps across the city.
Police identified at least 27 areas in May 2004, which they wanted to
target by issuing a 3-day notice to campers before sending in teams and
code enforcement officers to clear out remaining belongings. The sweeps
were expected to occur in June and locations for the proposed sweep included
wooded camps, alleyways, abandoned buildings, and a parking deck. While
sweeps occur at various times, most take place before major events. The
opening of the Clinton Presidential Center in November seemed to be one
such event that was a factor in the proposed displacements. According
to Sandra Wilson, executive director of the Arkansas Supportive Housing
Network, the city is attempting to remove homeless people from the downtown
area to please businesses and to promote tourism. When Mayor Jim Dailey
was asked whether the sweeps had anything to do with tourism, he said,
"Absolutely," but also said that tourism was only one of many
Local advocates called on the city to delay the sweeps until after a
homeless outreach fair set for September 25, and explained there was not
enough shelter room. Some shelter directors were also concerned they had
not been alerted in advance of the proposed sweeps. The City assumed that
homeless providers would go into the camps assisting the police and "help
clean them out." The providers declined not only because they were
not included in the process, but because there was nowhere they could
have assisted the displaced in going, nor was there any plan in place
by the City as to where they would go. Advocates withdrew support from
the city by presenting a written resolution. However, city officials asserted
the camps should be shut down sooner rather than later and stated their
concerns of loss of public "credibility" if the sweeps were
not conducted. In a surprising turn of events, the City called off the
sweep in early August to "retool" the process less than a week
before sweeps were to start. Advocates were pleased that the sweeps were
postponed. "Hallelujah," said Sandra Wilson, the executive director
of the Arkansas Supportive Housing Network, "I hope this means we
can actually sit down with the city and work out a long-range plan. It
really sounds like theyre committed to coming to the table and working
Patty Lindeman, the founder of Hunger-Free Arkansas maintains, however,
"the sweeps of the camps are nothing new," those sweeps are
conducted on a routine basis. However, this was "the first time they
[were] going to post legal notices."
In July of 2004, police raided a homeless camp during the day when
most of the residents were absent. They went in without notice, postings,
or warrants and as they searched, they threw property into the river.
Sandra Wilson noted the raids occurred after the city had agreed to the
process of a legal notice and a timeline. The homeless have also been
told not to gather at picnic tables under the Broadway Bridge before or
after local providers arrive to give out food because it is private property
and it belongs to City Hall.
The Executive Director of the River City Ministry said the "ideal
situation would be to have enough beds to at least give the homeless a
place to go," and what he sees happening is "the resources that
could be used to provide these beds are being used to police these camps."
A census by the Central Arkansas Team Care For the Homeless (CATCH)
was released in August of 2004, and reported that the Central Arkansas
homeless population has increased by 15% in three years.
A member of CATCH, which conducted a homeless census in conjunction
with the police, said the City has also agreed to work with CATCH for
a long-range plan, has offered $250,000 toward the establishment of a
full-service day center, and is considering a nearby safe zone in which
homeless people could camp. The member seemed very surprised and pleased
that the plan to clear the camps was reversed. It also seems apparent
that the considerable opposition from the community had an impact on the
postponement of the sweeps. Some advocates expect that the old policies
will resume after the topic is out of focus of the media.
On September 17, 2004 National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty
(NLCHP) wrote a letter to Mayor Jim Dailey.
Tulin Ozdeger, the Civil Rights Staff Attorney, said the NLCHP is
"deeply troubled by recent news accounts that the City of Little
Rock intends to embark upon a campaign of sweeps of areas inhabited by
homeless Little Rock residents. NLCHP wishes to register its concerns
regarding the harmful consequences such actions would have on the constitutional
rights of these residents. Further, we urge you to work with local advocates
and service providers to find a more constructive and effective way of
approaching the problem of homelessness in your community."
"By conducting sweeps of areas where homeless people are living,
the City not only places itself in jeopardy of being legally liable for
illegal actions, but it does nothing to solve the underlying problem of
homelessness. With inadequate housing options and shelter space, clearing
out these areas only moves people from around to different locations.
Instead, the City should aim to find solutions that will help homeless
persons move permanently off of the streets and into self-sufficiency."
"Instead of pursuing measures that lead to civil rights violations
and consequent costly and burdensome litigation, Little Rock should be
dedicating more time and resources to developing jobs at a living wage,
affordable housing, increased access to healthcare for low-income persons,
and other solutions to homelessness."
Ozdeger concludes by stating, "NLCHP urges you to take this
opportunity to do something constructive to help bring about an end to
homelessness. Taking actions that violate the civil rights of Little Rock
residents in need will not solve the problem of homelessness."
Mayor Daily has stated his impatience with the delays in getting
the camps cleaned out. "I want these camps cleaned up, and I will
say that loudly and clearly."
"We have to be trying to deal with the sensitivity issues of
those who truly have needs, but as far as Im concerned we need to
run off those individuals who are the chronic homeless that dont
want services provided to the them" or who "expect theyre
going to victimize the community with their panhandling or other crimes,"
Dailey explains allowing certain camps would "send the wrong
message" and draw more homeless people to the city, which he said
is already viewed as accommodating.
He also said the city should consider requiring homeless people who
benefit from city services to do chores such as mowing grass or picking
"If youre not willing to do something for the community
in exchange for the handouts that are given to you then you dont
belong here," Dailey said.
When asked by Sandra Wilson in a public forum about where homeless
people would go, the Mayor replied, "I dont know."
Andre Bernard, the citys director of housing and development,
said he expects case management teams to enter three or four camps shortly
after the September 25 homeless outreach event on North Little Rocks
"Youll probably see something happening within the next
couple of weeks," Bernard said. "It may take some time to address
all 27 (camps)."
Philip Mangano, executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council
on Homelessness, spoke on September 22 at a statewide homelessness conference
in Little Rock. He said Little Rock needs to find a solution thats
not "punitive," but moves the homeless into the services they
On September 25, the Stand Down homeless outreach fair provided services
to 800 homeless individuals. Five hundred volunteers assisted in the days
One of the services offered at the outreach event was a homeless
court where public defenders helped homeless people clear up their misdemeanor
According to Estella Morris, program manager for the U.S. Dept. of
Veterans Affairs in Little Rock, "We have so many homeless clients
who get charges for small things like vagrancy, loitering and things like
that. A lot of it is nuisance charges that will make them afraid to apply
Local homeless advocates report the Mayor and the City Manager have
not backed away from going forward with the sweeps. The advocates speculate
the sweeps will happen either before or shortly thereafter the November
opening of the Clinton Presidential Library.
An "annual satirical stage show" put on by the Pulaski County
Bar Association depicted officials "driving away helpless residents
of the camps."
Beginning November 1, a 50-cent fare is planned on the Central Arkansas
Transit (River Rail) streetcar that will travel through both Little Rock
and North Little Rock. Advocates say the fare is intended to keep homeless
people off the trolley.
In September of 2003, the Mayor of Atlanta, Shirley Franklin, issued
an executive order prohibiting feeding people in public. The pretext offered
for the order, that "feeding the hungry is a health hazard,"
angered local advocates including Anita Beaty. In spite of the fact the
Mayors order lacked the legal authority to prohibit public feeding,
the publicity surrounding the issue produced the desired results. Many
church groups and individuals believed they faced arrest if they continued
offering food in parks to hungry homeless people, so they discontinued
the practice. However, Atlanta City Councilman Derrick Boazman and State
Senator Vincent Fort resisted the order along with members of the Open
Door Community, Concerned Black Clergy and the Task Force for the Homeless.
Mike Casey of the Open Door Community reports that homeless people are
routinely criminalized in the city. Central Atlanta Progress, a downtown
business organization, has for years pushed for policies and ordinances
to rid the downtown area of homeless people. Representatives of CAP brag
that arrests for "quality of life" ordinances have increased
239 % in the past year. These ordinances include prohibition against "urban
camping" or sleeping outside, aggressive panhandling, and panhandling
in most downtown areas.
The Atlanta "Downtown Ambassadors," a quasi-police force, continues
to be a source of harassment to people experiencing homelessness. Every
morning "Ambassadors" and police awaken homeless people at 6:45
a.m. An Atlanta Journal Constitution article reported that, "the
wake-up crew is forceful and polite, but their job is to keep a lid on
the homeless who use the streets as their bathroom and bedroom. It's a
bit of downtown housekeeping to make the homeless problem more palatable
for the well-scrubbed, who drive into town for the business day or to
visit." Police say that the teams arrest perhaps one person a month
but awaken approximately 30 people a day. Participants in the teams admit
that they do little to "get people off the streets." Workers
also pilot Tennant 4300 All-Terrain Litter [Vacuums], which suck up litter,
including the "blankets and trappings" of homeless people, all
before 8:30 a.m. when business employees go to work.
A homeless man was interviewed and said that "moonlighting cops
working security for hotels harass the homeless" when they try to
sleep at particular public parks. He was charged with disorderly conduct
for sleeping in a park. "I can't be disorderly if I'm asleep,"
he said. "They dragged me off in handcuffs." The police officers
justified this action by asserting that the disorderly conduct law is
broad enough to include sleeping in the wrong place.
Mayor Franklins Commission to End Homelessness has raised $10 million
for a 24-hour facility in the jail. Casey feels this facility will provide
a political excuse for judges to "sentence" individuals to the
shelter. The Citys policy is obviously to remove all services from
the downtown area and sanction only the jail facility, called conveniently
"The Gateway" as the central intake and tracking facility.
City Councilman Lamar Willis advocated for an extension of the panhandling
ordinance to include all forms of begging within a "no-panhandling
zone" covering the entire business district. Persons arrested three
times for panhandling could receive up to six months in jail. Lenders
in the hospitality industry promoted the zone to prevent panhandlers from
asking conventioneers for money. The Council considered including panhandling
"blue boxes" where people could panhandle within a certain zone.
Debate around this ordinance appears to have stalled it.
During two months of 2003, the Task Force for the Homeless tallied arrests
of homeless people from computer lists of people and charges. A shocking
1,100 to 1,400 homeless people were arrested for "status offenses"
or "quality of life" citations each month.
Exclusionary zoning regulations also prevent the location of low-income
housing and group homes in the downtown area. Local neighborhood groups
are empowered to recommend applications or deny them. City Council can
override these recommendations or use them for political cover.
A computer tracking system is required of all residential and supportive
service providers using any public money in Atlanta. The tracking system
impacts the way services are offered to homeless people, with the possibility
of agencies sharing information that homeless people provide. The Task
Force for the Homeless reports several incidents in which homeless people
were excluded from service or shelter because of information shared by
The City of Atlanta plans to close shelters that currently house homeless
women, children and families in spite of the fact that an average of 50
homeless single women and women with children wait in the Task Force offices
nightly for a shelter bed.
In the summer of 2003, the city of Cincinnati
began threatening to remove people experiencing homelessness from underneath
highway overpass bridges. The Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT)
first stated that the removal of these individuals was not permissible
under existing laws, but later ODOT changed its position and sent a letter
to the city stating that the city did have the authority to remove people
from underneath overpasses.
The police began posting "No Trespassing" signs in July of
2003, giving individuals 72 hours to move from their encampments. In a
response organized by homeless people living under one of the targeted
bridges, local advocates, social service workers, and other supporters
came to the homeless camps to protest this action and assist with relocation
efforts. A local lawyer, Jennifer Kinsley, and the ACLU filed a temporary
restraining order to keep the police from moving anyone at that time and
postponing the sweeps for 30 days. Kinsley also filed a lawsuit against
the City of Cincinnati charging that the City has a pattern of violating
the rights of homeless people. As a result, the Cincinnati Police have
changed their procedure and now always give notice of 72 business hours
to individuals living in homeless encampments. Police also forward all
trespassing notices to the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless
(GCCH) so that individuals can be referred to the appropriate outreach
In September of 2003, the City Council passed a resolution calling for
the removal of all homeless people living under bridges and highway overpasses.
While the police continued to follow the written procedure described above,
this resolution encouraged the relocation of many homeless individuals
who were camping in visible areas. The City of Cincinnati continues to
target individuals camping in public spaces. Since the passage of the
police trespassing notice policy in August 2003, 17 camps have been swept,
affecting 43 separate individuals. Five people have had their camps swept
In response to a proposed ordinance that would require panhandlers to
wear a license, the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless proposed
that the city hire an outreach worker to work with panhandlers to help
them find alternatives to panhandling. Although the City rebuffed the
request, Downtown Cincinnati, Inc. created such a post. Since September
of 2003, DCIs outreach worker has assisted 78 individuals in moving
off the streets.
The City of Cincinnati renewed an aggressive panhandling ordinance in
May of 2004 for two years, with a 5-4 vote. The ordinance forbids anyone
from verbally asking for "money, goods or any other form of gratuity"
after dark or before sunrise, within 20 feet of a crosswalk, in any public
transportation vehicle or bus stop, within 20 feet of an ATM or bank entrance,
from the operator of a motor vehicle or a person entering or exiting a
motor vehicle, from a person waiting in line to enter a commercial establishment,
or on private property without permission. The city created an ordinance
in May of 2003 requiring panhandlers to obtain a permit for verbal solicitation.
A panhandler considered aggressive or one who is caught panhandling without
a license could face a $250 fine and 30 days in jail. These ordinances
led police to arrest a homeless man on charges of improper solicitation
after he asked a plainclothes officer for ten cents. According to Andy
Erickson, of the GCCH, most of the panhandlers arrested are taken to jail
because they cannot pay the initial fine. Police have made 155 arrests
since the city council passed the license law.
In August of 2003, two homeless men who lived beneath a bridge were given
no advance warning when their possessions were bulldozed to make room
for parking for the Citys annual Riverfest event. Their situation
was rolled into the above lawsuit, settled out of court, and the men were
given financial restitution for the loss of their belongings.
#4 Las Vegas, Nevada
In a sweep conducted outside a branch office
of the Salvation Army, police and Las Vegas Neighborhood Services personnel
confiscated shopping carts that contained the personal property of about
20 homeless people. The shopping carts, said Duane Sonnenberg, coordinator
of homeless services for the Salvation Army, were obstructing a handicap
access ramp. Sonnenberg added that these shopping carts were considered
stolen goods, as stipulated in a Las Vegas ordinance regarding the removal
of shopping carts from commercial property. A spokeswoman for Las Vegas
Neighborhood Services said that anyone who was present when the sweep
occurred could have taken their property from the carts. However, no homeless
people were there at the appointed time. They had not been given advanced
warning of the sweep.
A judge agreed to dismiss charges against Gary Norris for panhandling.
Norris received a ticket for sitting on a sidewalk and displaying a sign
reading, "The Lord is My Shepherd."
It was reported in July of 2004 that the city attorneys office
is pushing to increase the amount of jail time imposed on repeat offenders
of misdemeanors in the downtown area. Civil libertarians believe this
course of action targets the homeless. In some cases, the plea agreements
offered by the city attorneys office relating to repeat offenses
of "vagrancy" are being increased from 45 to 90 days in jail.
Robert Langford, defense attorney for the accused, says, "It is the
most asinine thing Ive ever heard of, and the city taxpayers should
be outraged." County Clark Sheriff Bill Young said such policies
were meant to combat the "revolving door" syndrome in the criminal
It was reported in August of 2004 that the number of homeless persons
in the city has increased 18 percent. This report has caused the city
attorney to "crack down on homeless criminals" as
part of a "downtown cleanup effort," according to a Fox TV affiliate.
This is an effort to combat old policies, in which homeless people were
let back on the street and then re-arrested for other offenses later.
Although Las Vegas is a "magnet" for homeless teens from across
the nation, it was reported in August of 2004 that there are few places
for homeless runaways to hang out, and that Metro police work hard to
keep tourist areas like the Strip and Fremont Street free of panhandlers
and homeless kids.
City Commissioners tabled a proposal to
build a temporary picnic pavilion where homeless people could eat free
meals and voted unanimously to research ways the city should address homelessness.
A new panhandling ordinance greatly limiting the area where panhandling
is allowed was complimented by a brochure that focuses on aggressive panhandling
and explains the reasons that giving to panhandlers is bad. The Gainesville
Public Safety Committee promoted the ordinance in February of 2004. The
Florida Coalition for the Homeless responded by creating a one page handout
about panhandling and addressing natural questions raised about giving
money to strangers.
According to Jennifer Wiley, a local homeless advocate and journalist,
Ed Braddy, a city commissioner, spoke in favor of the citys tougher
stance. He said, "If Gainesville becomes less hospitable to panhandlers
and transients, then Im ok with that." In addition, Braddy
said, "I dont want to give comfort to misery; sometimes tough
love is called for." Sergeant Keith Kameg noted that, "Our panhandlers
are criminals; we want to make Gainesville a safe community."
According to Arupa Chiarini-Freeman of the Home Van outreach organization,
Gainesville laws make it essentially illegal to sleep if one is homeless.
Homeless people are sometimes woken up three or four times a night and
told to move on, or be arrested. People frequently sit in jail for weeks,
or even months, on charges like open container or trespass. When their
case finally gets to court they are sentenced to "time served."
Chiarini-Freeman notes Gainesville provides no public restrooms after
sunset, and has ignored repeated requests by local service providers that
adequate restrooms be installed. Despite the lack of restrooms homeless
people are repeatedly arrested for public urination.
A petition has begun to stop the City Plan Board and City Commission
from limiting the number of meals served by St. Francis House and the
Salvation Army. The limit of 75 per facility would only address the needs
of 5% of the local homeless population. According to advocate/journalist
Wiley, this number represents significantly fewer meals than the St. Francis
House has served in the past and is a serious limitation.
As there are insufficient shelter beds in Gainesville a number of
homeless people live in the woods. In February 2003, at a training for
counting homeless people the Alachua County Coalition for the Homeless
and Hungry, Inc. asked the Gainesville Police Dept. to send an officer
to talk about safety issues, etc. when heading out into the woods. The
entire gist of his "safety lesson" was to wear sterile latex
gloves if you touch anybody who is homeless, and to carry a bottle of
disinfectant with you to clean yourself off after any interaction with
homeless folks. According to local homeless advocates, this is fairly
typical of the lack of sensitivity by the local police toward homeless
In the spring of 2004, City Commissioner Long visited a homeless
camp named Sweetwater Branch in the woods near SW Williston Rd. City Commissioner
Long asked the residents what services they would want. Among those requested
was a cleanup of the land to clear it of litter, much of which was dumped
there illegally not by homeless people, but by residents of the surrounding
In June of 2004, a group of homeless persons were forced to relocate
from a Sweetwater Branch camp without any assistance or suggested locations.
The county sheriff's office became involved and took this action, reportedly
at the private landowners request, after the property owner was
appraised of "illegal activity on his land" and was asked if
he had given permission for homeless people who were engaged in "illegal
activity" to be on his land. A local homeless aid worker reported
that the sheriffs took pictures of residents and arrested three people
who had outstanding warrants. Some believe the eviction comes from sanitation
and trash issues; it is also believed that a new housing development is
planned for the land in question. Also, the sheriffs may have visited
several camps and taken aerial photographs. It is assumed that the goal
is to close these camps as well.
According to advocate/journalist Wiley, a campus Christian organization
from the University of Florida that serves food and shares fellowship
with homeless people on Friday evenings were asked to move from the Downtown
Plaza, ostensibly to avoid conflict with a series of Friday evening concerts
sponsored by the City of Gainesville. In February of 2003 these students
were "kicked off" the steps of city hall, and relocated to the
courtyard of the Holy Trinity Episcopal Church.
Alachua County Poverty Reduction Director John Skelly was quoted
as saying, "We need to take a hard look at how weve got services
organized and how we can do a better job at it. Our population has been
increasing dramatically, and so has the percentage of people at the bottom
of the barrel. Raw numbers have grown, but our capacity to serve people
has not grown." Skelly notes that there are only 100 to 150 beds
available, while the homeless population is estimated at over 1000. Unfortunately,
the City of Gainesville will most likely be forced to cut its funding
for social programs in 2005 because of reductions in Community Development
Block Grant funds.
#6 New York City,
Aggressive policing practices in New York City have not decreased during
2003/2004, and in fact, due to activities surrounding preparations for
the Republican National Convention (RNC) significantly increased. Homeless
New Yorkers are subject to being harassed by several law enforcement entities,
including the New York City Police Department, the Metropolitan Transit
Authority (covering subways, buses and transit facilities like Penn Station
and Grand Central Station), Amtrak Police, Long Island Railroad
Police, private security firms patrolling business improvement districts
and the Department of Homeless Service police, which is a unit comprised
of peace officers who can arrest and/or write criminal tickets within
the shelter system, currently serving 38,000 homeless New Yorkers.
John Jones, a homeless New Yorker and leader of the Civil Rights
committee at Picture the Homeless has been personally affected by getting
tickets and arrested for violating ordinances banning sleeping on park
benches and the subways, as well as for disorderly conduct for refusing
to leave a public park. There are many rules in fact, rather than laws,
that people are arrested for violating, but which end up leading to criminal
records, Jones states. For instance, the fact that Central Park closes
at 1:00 am is a rule, not a law. Falling asleep on a subway and taking
up more than one seat is ticketed as "stealing a fare," while
sleeping on a park bench is "misuse of park property." Tuesday
and Thursday nights have become known as "sweep nights," and
there is an increase in quality of life ticketing and breaking up of encampments.
Jean Rice, a homeless activist, Civil Rights leader and Board member
of Picture the Homeless notes that business people or students are not
arrested or ticketed for the same conduct as homeless New Yorkers, constituting
an illegal police practice selective enforcement. In Central Park,
homeless people are arrested for drinking or camping, while concertgoers
on blankets drinking wine in the same space are excused. Disorderly conduct
is a frequently used charge, and is a mostly uncontestable charge, so
it creates a real problem for people who want to defend themselves. The
situation at Penn Station/Madison Square Garden also highlights this double
standard. Many homeless people are harassed or ticketed for drinking in
public. However, Penn Station is connected to Madison Square Garden, and
people attending a Madonna Concert or basketball game are not held to
the same standard. Similarly, commuters can buy a beer and drink it on
the platform of the Long Island Railroad while waiting for their train.
Lynn Lewis, Co-Director/Civil Rights Organizer of Picture the Homeless,
states the selective enforcement of laws used to target homeless people
serves a political agenda to move homeless people from areas including
public sidewalks and parks. There were significant ongoing sweeps in preparation
for the Republican National Convention scheduled in late August, 2004.
Even as early as January, 2004, the NYPD and MTA police were harassing
and "sweeping" people experiencing homelessness in Penn Station.
During the Convention, much of the area around Penn Station and Madison
Square Gardens was shut down to traffic, and sometimes the public, in
the security area. Homeless people and advocates for the homeless were
concerned about the effect this might have on the homeless community,
because there are many life-sustaining services for homeless New Yorkers
in this zone, including drop-in shelters, soup kitchens, and the general
delivery post office.
During the months preceding the RNC, Picture the Homeless conducted extensive
surveys (more than 200), among homeless New Yorkers about interactions
with the police, primarily in midtown Manhattan. Although a thorough analysis
remains to be done, it is obvious that police harassment mostly occurs
through issuing "Quality of Life" tickets against homeless people,
often as a result of performing life-sustaining activities such as sleeping
in the subway, on a bench or on the sidewalk. Many arrests are the result
of warrants which in turn are often a consequence of not being able to
pay the fines for Quality of Life tickets. Places known to be gathering
spots for homeless people are regularly combed by warrant squads arresting
people with outstanding warrants. The survey also documents several incidents
of homeless and race-related insults, economic and racial profiling in
public spaces (such as parks and trains stations) as well as police brutality.
Another problem the convention presented to people experiencing homelessness
was tighter security, not only by the regular police and security forces,
but also by the Secret Service and Department of Homeland Security. We
received reports of more frequent checking of IDs and were told
bags would be subject to search. Due to a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling,
police may now request ID on demand, and in New York City, police do not
have to accept public assistance cards as an official ID, though it is
government-issued, has a photo ID and requires a fingerprint to obtain
one. The Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen, which is the largest in the city,
issued identification cards during the convention for volunteers and homeless
people. The Bread of Life Program, which serves 500 people every Wednesday,
closed during the convention, and the pantry gave people extra food the
Convened by leaders of Picture the Homeless, over 40 service providers
and advocacy groups gathered together with the Department of Homeless
Services, the NYPD and RNC planners to minimize the negative impact of
the RNC on people experiencing homelessness in a number of ways, in a
campaign known as Operation Cardboard Box. As a result, we pressured the
Post Office to expand the hours for General Delivery Pick up during the
RNC, received a verbal commitment from the NYPD to accept public assistance
benefits cards as photo ID and the name of a point person within the Homeless
Outreach Unit to call if homeless New Yorkers experienced harassment during
the RNC. Picture the Homeless believes that without the advance planning
spearheaded by homeless New Yorkers there would have been a far greater
negative impact on homeless New Yorkers by the RNC.
Picture the Homeless also created an alternative to shelter for New Yorkers
who regularly reside outside in the RNC area by working with places of
worship to provide sanctuary. Advocates worked with the city police commissioner
to try to relax curfews in parks and other places in the city so displaced
people could have somewhere to go during the convention. There was large
amount of negative press, which was seen as an attempt to demonize homeless
people, and allow the public to tolerate the expected mass arrests. During
the convention parks were closed and swept by police after protesters
were driven into the area. Homeless people may also have been affected
by the indiscriminate mass arrests in which the police closed off streets
and arrested all in the area.
Many day labor sites, several near homeless shelters, have been targeted
by the police. NYPD issued homeless day laborers waiting for work near
the Bedford Atlantic Mens shelter in Brooklyn 228 summonses in 28
days. Complaints from the community about crimes in the area, references
to traffic hazards are invoked in order to justify hitting "preventively"
on day laborers with charges such as trespassing (even though people live
in the shelter), loitering, disorderly conduct and impeding pedestrian
traffic. Within the first week of Picture the Homeless members doing outreach
at the site, one member was arrested, and another was issued a summons
for standing on the sidewalk engaging in a conversation with the day laborers.
Clearly, this ticketing policy is not enforced on other sidewalks with
non-homeless appearing passersby.
The New York Police Department put an officer on trial in July of 2004,
for refusing to arrest a homeless man who was sleeping in a parking garage
in 2002. The officers attorney accused officials of punishing his
client for "following his conscience" and says the officer "saw
the homeless as people and showed them dignity and respect." The
lawyer for the police department argued the officers personal beliefs
are "completely irrelevant." However, others note the officer
had previously arrested "vagrants" and had possibly had other
concerns at the time that he did not arrest the man.
#7 Los Angeles,
According to Frank Tamborello, of the Los Angeles Coalition to End Hunger
and Homelessness, the Los Angeles Police Department conducts "sweeps"
to move homeless people out of various areas.
In May of 2003, the L.A. City Council approved a contract with Hanover
Justice Group, Inc. for $60,000 for consultation on the issue of homeless
people in downtown L.A. This group advised on a strategy of law enforcement
pressure on homeless people to move them out of downtown Los Angeles.
Frank Tamborello reports the LAPD Legal Training Unit created a lesson
plan on "Right of Privacy in a Temporary Shelter" relating to searches
of homeless encampments. They determined if such temporary shelters as
"cardboard condos" were located on public sidewalks, they were in violation
of municipal ordinances and their tenants were subject to citation or
arrest for loitering or blocking the sidewalk. These lawyers believed
a search of a cardboard structure was legal in spite of the owners
claim the cardboard was his "home" and therefore protected by the Fourth
Amendment. They declared the owner "must show that the expectation of
privacy is reasonable."
In Skid Row during the period January 1, 2003, to March 5, 2004,
LAPD had made 1,424 arrests for violation of LAMC 41.18(d), which prohibits
camping or sleeping on a sidewalk. 358 of those arrests were made in the
first 64 days of 2004. Overall, from July 1, 2003, through March 31, 2004,
there were 611 cases filed on 41.18(d) of a total of 867 "quality of life"
offense cases filed in that period.
Frank Tamborello reports in spite of the enforcement of the law the
number of encampments actually increased. Even when the number of cases
filed increased, the number of encampments continued to increase. By December
there were over twice the number of encampments as in May, in spite of
902 cases filed under the law in that time period.
Frank Tamborello also reports the policy has been coupled with "cosmetic
changes" such as an extension of the winter shelter program that
is now year round and the implementation of the Streets or Services (SOS)
Pilot Program. This program offers homeless individuals an alternative
to incarceration by providing a one-time "opportunity" to enroll in social
The city council passed an ordinance making it illegal to urinate
or defecate in public, promising more public toilets would be built where
needed. If a violator is near a public toilet, a $1,000 fine will be issued.
In December of 2003, the city razed a temporary encampment where
about 100 people lived. Los Angeles Police Department had posted notices
warning the camp would be dismantled and offered beds in shelters. Four
displaced homeless people accepted the offer. The camp was broken up at
the request of local businesses.
In August of 2004, it was reported Los Angeles County inmates with
medical problems were being forced to sleep on jailhouse floors because
of severe overcrowding and staff shortages. One inmate who was forced
to sleep on the floor, without a pad or a blanket, was Mitchell Hart,
who had been arrested for panhandling at a freeway off-ramp. Hart is missing
his left arm. He reportedly said, "I thought since Im handicapped,
I should have been given a bed," and, "They treat a dog better."
The Los Angeles City Library Commission voted 31 to alter the
municipal code that states people can be on "limits of library"
from 10 p.m. 5 a.m. They want to change that to 9 p.m. 9
a.m. because librarians feel uncomfortable stepping over homeless people
who are sleeping in the doorway of the public library. This recommendation
will go to the full City Council.
Some homeless advocates called the proposed law counterproductive.
"Its just one more example of being short-sighted, and rather
than being proactive in the community in providing safe places for people
to sleep, you criminalize the activity," said Bob Erlenbusch, executive
director of the Los Angeles Coalition to End Hunger and Homelessness (LACEHH).
The LACEHH has joined with the American Civil Liberties Union and
many other groups to create a Jails Advocacy Task Force. This Task Force
will focus on creating effective discharge planning. Thirty-five thousand
people are released from the L.A. County Jail every year. A bus route
runs every hour on the hour from the release point directly to Skid Row.
And then the police do sweeps, arresting people who are around other paroleesa
violation of their parole.
#8 San Francisco,
In a two month period, the San Francisco
Police Department issued over 3,500 citations for illegal lodging and
used the threat of citations to keep countless others from sleeping, eating,
and sitting in public places. In 2003, the San Francisco Police department
issued 10,570 "Quality of Life" citations not including illegal
A new anti-panhandling law (Proposition M), passed in November of
2003, it went into effect at the end of May 2004. This law "tightens"
the rules of panhandling and defines aggressive panhandling for the city.
While aggressive panhandling was already illegal, this law will tighten
restrictions against panhandling near ATMs, traffic dividers, and highway
Police and outreach workers are now asking panhandlers to move along.
But according to Hilda Kissane, a local resident who works across
from City Hall on Van Ness as an assistant manager for the San Francisco
Symphony, "The only trouble is that all I have to do is walk a couple
of blocks way, and there they all are."
Due to the passage of Proposition M, Mayor Gavin Newsom said he will
continue to direct police and outreach teams to keep telling homeless
people what the law says and each time they do so, to also offer
whatever help they need to get off the street and into housing.
The Mayor also has city workers clearing benches and planters to
the edges of Market Street to make the walkways wider, and putting up
portable barriers in spots where homeless people have traditionally clustered
to keep them away.
The Proposition M patrols began in the spring of 2004, with officers
simply chatting with homeless people, telling them the ordinance officially
took effect May 25. Then in the summer of 2004, they started handing out
written warnings, called "admonishments," and telling homeless
people if they saw them panhandling again in the same day, they would
get a citation issued.
The "admonishments" carry no penalty and were created by
Prop M. The citations can result in arrest and sentences of three months
of community service or jail time if a person gets three in a year.
Police Deputy Chief Greg Suhr said officers have written 1,000 admonishments,
but just nine citations since Prop M began. Nobody has been arrested.
In October 2004, teams of police and outreach workers increased their
patrols along Market Streetdeliberately walking its full downtown
length three times a day, with street cleaners on motorized sweeps following
along. The main job of the street cleaners is to clean the streets. But
a byproduct of the patrols is to force anyone sleeping or sitting on the
sidewalk to move.
Homeless advocates have complained since the spring of 2004, spraying
down streets is harassing sidewalk sleepers. And while they applaud Newsoms
reluctance to jail panhandlers, they doubt the street crackdown will have
any permanent effect.
L.S. Wilson, Jr. of the Coalition on Homelessness in San Francisco,
said, "Everyone knows those people who get moved are just going a
few streets over."
The stated plan of the city is to begin providing treatment through the
criminal justice system. Instead of going to jail, offenders will be visited
by social workers with the hope of being transferred into alcohol or drug
rehabilitation programs. However, Wilson, Jr. believes these programs
may simply be displacing other people who are already on the waiting list
for such facilities. In other words, programs needed by people on a voluntary
basis are only offered to those people if they are arrested.
The city also launched a welfare reform measure after it was passed in
November of 2002. The program, known as "Care Not Cash reduces
cash welfare payments in favor of permanent housing. The California Supreme
Court denied the appeal of the measure on July 21, 2003, and so the program
remains in effect.
According to L.S. Wilson, there is a Department of Public Works program
known as "Operation Tenderloin Scrub Down," which uses water
trucks with water cannons to wash down the citys sidewalks two and
three times a day. If homeless people are not moving fast enough they
may get sprayed, and their belongings may get wet.
A San Francisco police officer noted the possible futility of criminalization
programs when he commented that, "They dont disappear, they
just go from one area to another, a lot of them. You wake them in one
area; youll go to another area and get another call on them. So
youre just moving them all day long." San Francisco police
officers in the Tenderloin district report that many of the complaints
they handle in a day refer to the homeless.
#9 Honolulu, Hawaii
At the end of May 2004, the State of Hawaii
adopted one of the nations severest penalties to discourage people
from living on public property. Act 50, which relates to criminal trespassing,
charges an individual with criminal trespass in the second degree if the
person enters or remains on public property after receiving a written
request to leave. The law makes it de facto illegal to live on public
property and bans individuals for a year from public areas where they
are cited. Violation of the ban can lead to arrest and a $1000 fine or
up to 30 days in jail. State Senator Robert Bunda, who introduced the
law, says that it is directed at squatters who have lived on the beaches
of Mokuleia; however, the law applies statewide and makes no specific
reference to Mokuleia. Governor Linda Lingle, who signed the law,
instead hopes to deal with the homeless population by supporting affordable
In 2003, barbed wire was placed under highway bridges and around
the Nimatz viaduct to exclude homeless people. A television news source
reports the strategy "hasnt worked."
There is a State Parks policy for their maintenance workers
to take the belongings of homeless people if left unattended. That means
the people living in the park who work are most of risk of losing all
of their belongings on a regular basis.
In Waianai Beach homeless people had their belongings (e.g. tents,
clothes, kids toys) bulldozed into the ground by Parks employees
working in conjunction with the police.
The number of homeless people in Ala Moana Park is rising, and many
of the shelters are either full or near capacity with people camping in
the park. Some residents fear the homeless are monopolizing certain areas
by publicly urinating and abusing drugs in the restrooms. Either way,
police estimates show 50 people illegally camp in the park every night.
Police have not issued tickets because they do not wish to push the problem
around, but to solve it. "How long," Governor Lingle asked attendees
of the 2004 annual meeting of the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii, "will
condos across from Ala Moana Park retain their $750,000 value if the homeless
people in the park multiply and seek shelter on the other side of the
boulevard? How long will the tourists come when they find homeless people
living on the beach? How long will shops along Fort St. Mall survive when
the benches are removed because homeless people are using them?"
#10 Austin, Texas
A group of social service agencies launched the "Real Change"
initiative in January of 2004 to discourage people from giving spare change
to panhandlers. Instead, the suggestion is that people who want to help
the poor should donate their time or money to local service providers.
Richard Troxell, of House the Homeless, opposed the campaign. "It
gives the impression that all people have to do is ask for services and
they will get them," said Troxell. "The reality of it is just
the opposite. We have a desperate need for social services, including
substance abuse treatment and health care."
Joel Rhodes, a homeless veteran, was pronounced not guilty of violating
the "no camping" ordinance in December of 2003. The presiding
judge said the language of the law was too vague to enforce judiciously.
He also said that what the law made illegal, namely "sleeping"
and "the laying down of bedding for the purposes of sleeping,"
were lawful acts.
Police have been hassling homeless people who sell a street newspaper
called the Austin Advocate, a newspaper article reported. One vendor,
Robert Stevenson, was issued a $250 ticket for "begging in a public
place." Upon further inquiry, it was discovered that no such offense
exists. The charge against Mr. Stevenson, an 81-year-old man and veteran
of WWII, was subsequently dropped.
#11 Sarasota, Florida
In Sarasota during the past two years there have
been three bans passed which are specifically targeted at their homeless
population: one against camping, one against public defecation, and a
panhandling ban, advocate Sandy Baar reports. According to Baar homeless
persons have been regularly convicted. In January of 2004, it was reported
217 people had been arrested in 2003 under Sarasotas anti-camping
According to Baar, there is a newly established
exclusionary district of a 6-mile radius in downtown, which prohibits
new social services. It does not, however, throw out the existing social
services, but it is trying simply to create a certain kind of downtown.
Baar reports the bay-front sweeps of a colony of
people who live on houseboats has continued.
In addition, in August of 2004, the city passed
an ordinance regulating large groups that gather in parks, requiring permits
and insurance. A group that feeds the homeless, "Gift From God,"
had been criticized previously for feeding homeless people in the park
and leaving litter. Supporters of the law say it will help prevent abuses
of the park. However, the head of the group says he will apply for a permit
to serve there.
#12 Key West, Florida
City Manager Julio Avael recommended a
plan in December of 2003, to fingerprint and photograph homeless people
sleeping in city streets and parks. Avael signed an executive order instructing
police officers to carry out the plan before he brought it to the attention
of the city commission. Several commissioners stated they were not in
favor of the program. Assistant City Manager John Jones claimed the program
would help keep homeless people from trespassing after being banished
from city property. Civil liberties groups objected to the proposal, pointing
out the city has no legal right to fingerprint homeless people who have
not been accused of a crime. As of February 2004, the commissioners had
not vetted the plan, but were still discussing the issue. However, in
August 2004, John Jones reported the plan had been "scrapped"
and the only photographing of homeless persons was for a free bus pass,
in which the photographing was similar to that of a regular identification
It was reported in January 2004, the landmark 1988 Pottinger case
originating in Miami had placed restriction on the citys ability
to remove homeless people from city streets and parks unless there is
an alternate place to send them, such as a shelter. This decision was
made after the city had "essentially banned" homeless people
from an area that included famous tourist bars, hotels, and restaurants.
Homeless people had taken to living in the mangrove wetlands of the area,
but the area has been declared an endangered wetland. Interestingly, Avael
promoted a plan in 2003, in which homeless people would be allowed to
sleep in these wetlands, until a "safe zone" is created, but
the plan encountered criticism from citizens. The city decided to enforce
an ordinance that prohibits anyone from trespassing in endangered wetlands,
after it was reported to have "gathered dust" because of the
restriction on removing people. In addition to the concern for the wetlands,
the city is also concerned with its appearance as a tourist-friendly location.
Police issued warnings to people sleeping in the area and then forced
them out two days later issuing tickets and threatening arrest.
Without legal authority, Key West police raided and dismantled a homeless
camp before a passed ordinance took effect. "That [raid] is certainly
not sanctioned by the police department or my office," said Julio
A homeless "safe zone" was proposed for Monroe County in
January of 2004. The proposed zone would be located behind the jail and
near a landfill and would be in place "by the end of ."
Assistant City Manager John Jones expected the camp to accommodate 120
people, but expected fewer to camp there. He noted, "This is the
only area right now that everybody agrees to put them, except the people
were going to be putting there." He also said the City "came
up with different places to put them, out of the way, which raised a real
furor. Nobody wants them in their back yard. Nobody." However, Jones
also noted police were not able to move persons sleeping on public land
(aside from areas of special concern, such as the wetlands) without providing
another place for them to go; this policy may have changed after the initiation
of the "safe zone." Monroe County voted in March of 2004, to
approve the "safe zone." The City and County will share the
$120,000 construction cost. A newspaper article notes anyone found sleeping
on public land would now be required to go to the zone, go to jail, or
leave the island.
The City of Key West and Monroe County opened the 120-bed tent city
on July 1, 2004. The facility has four military tents, several washers
and dryers, and about a dozen private showers and baths. The Safe Zone
is located right next to the county jail. A separate portable shower facility
is located adjacent to the Key West Police Department. Rules at the facility
call for people to leave the shelter with their belongings every day by
7:30 a.m., and check in at 7 p.m.
In August of 2004, John Jones said the city is concerned about the lack
of affordable housing in the area, but he is happy some of those camping
in the wetland have been able to find care. However, Jones worries about
the islands physical capacity to house new campers this winter.
Many campers are attracted by the same characteristics that "[drive]
the crucial winter tourism," according to a February 2004 article.
Jones noted the island is very small.
Key West reportedly has few emergency shelters. In previous years,
it had promoted a failed plan to send homeless people to shelters in Miami.
It was reported in February of 2004, a law concerning panhandling
was legislated in 2003 and went into effect for the Duval Strip and Mallory
Street, severing a main source of sustenance for the homeless and leading
to a number of arrests.
In late fall of 2003, numerous citations
were issued to homeless people for "disorderly conduct." However,
the reason for one citation read "subject has an army issue pack
sac and sleeping bag on the wall at the Church Street Park." Another
citation read, "Subject seen by officer blowing snot out of nose
onto sidewalk plaza."
The Nashville Homeless Power Project reported that it expected criminal
citations and arrests to increase significantly in April of 2004, at the
end of "Room at the Inn," a winter shelter program.
Matt Leber expects it is likely that Councilman Jameson will file
in September of 2004, for the first reading of an ordinance prohibiting
panhandling in the nighttime, panhandling in certain areas, and aggressive
#14 Berkeley, California
Police cracked down with renewed vigilance
in Berkeley, as arrests of homeless people increased sharply in August
and September of 2003. The Berkeley Police Department made 87 arrests
in a two-week period of which 34 were for trespassing. Officers also illegally
searched homeless youths for no apparent reason and enforced nonexistent
laws, specifically targeting people because they appear homeless. Instead
of addressing these civil rights abuses, Mayor Tom Bates raised awareness
by sleeping outside for a night with homeless people.
A 2004 report by Suitcase Clinic Legal Services describes incidents where
the police rousted people during rainstorms and on cold nights and forced
them out of temporary shelters on the grounds they were trespassing. At
the same time, the report cites an incident in which a mother and son
were forced out onto the street because there were no shelters in the
city that would house them. High-ranking city officials and local providers
got together to help her find a home and could not find one. Police issued
the woman over 12 tickets for sleeping on the sidewalk thereafter.
#15 Dallas, Texas
Empowered by an anti-solicitation ordinance
passed in March of 2003, the Dallas City Council was geared up to pass
two new ordinances in 2004 that would adversely affect poor and homeless
people. The first proposal targets persons carrying personal belongings
in a shopping cart, and it passed. A local reporter commented on the ingenuity
of homeless people in the area who began constructing their own carts
to escape punishment. The second proposal would allow only one centralized
location for organizations to provide free food, and according to city
officials it had not passed as of August 2004. A newspaper article in
August 2004 reports that agencies have been pressured to stop feeding
the homeless in a parking lot across the street from the library. The
feedings now take place at the Day Resource Center, which, the reporter
states, was not designed for that purpose.
In her mayoral race Laura Miller urged a ban on panhandlers and prompted
police officers "to go over and enforce the law" on panhandlers
standing across from a local 7-Eleven. In July of 2004, an "investigative"
television news team reported that this law is not being enforced as fully
as it could be. In the twelve months prior, the police had issued 4,800
citations for panhandling but had made only one arrest. However, those
receiving citations are apparently still being asked to pay a fine. Many
people cited have not paid their fines.
Citizens of Dallas passed only half of the original funding proposed
for a 24-hour homeless shelter. At the same time, $11 million was passed
for an animal shelter.
The Mayor of Dallas is quoted in a newspaper article saying, "For
a while I would roll down my window and yell at them (the homeless) to
get off the streets." The same article stated that 258 arrests had
been made and six campsites were destroyed and relocated. Police officers
in cities that surround "anti-panhandling" cities such as Dallas
say the laws have forced panhandlers to migrate around North Texas. This
may have fueled the drive for the new anti-panhandling ordinance in Denton.
The new version of Dallass "Downtown Advisors" program,
run by the Downtown Improvement District, directs tourists and is currently
primarily composed of a "hospitality team." The Team is being
trained in how to conduct morning sweeps to roust the homeless out of
doorways and intervene when panhandlers confront downtown patrons. The
new team will be in action by mid to late September, 2004.
A March, 2004 newspaper article noted there is a lack of enforcement
of aggressive panhandling laws by police, but enforcement by private security
officers, or "rent-a-cops" is high. This practice is the result
of the idea that the public will not challenge such enforcement. The street
newspaper that had monitored some of the civil rights abuses in the city
went out of business in 2003.
It was reported that, after being coerced to move by the city, and
after services relocated, homeless people have moved to a location very
close to City Hall. Homeless people near City Hall said they were followed
from place to place, honked and yelled at by the police to keep on moving,
and rousted from steps. In late August 2004, a "roundup" was
conducted in which hundreds of homeless people were awakened at between
4 to 5 a.m. Six people were arrested for having outstanding warrants.
Officers conduct similar sweeps two times a month and arrest people after
they have been cited three times for sleeping in public.
#16 Fresno, California
In June of 2004, it was reported the city council moved forward to build
an outdoor "drunk tank" with a chain-linked, razor wire fence, in which
persons would be put on public display for being intoxicated. The city
said it is an "innovative" method of saving money. Advocates
such as Liza Apper, question the safety of an outdoor facility where temperatures
can reach 112 degrees in the summer and there is little planning for restrooms
and adequate medical attention. It also appears, according to the Street
Spirit newspaper, that Fresno taxpayers will be sponsoring the Rescue
Mission, but a Christian group is staffing the location, to proselytize
those placed inside. The city has defended its creation, saying it will
prevent people from going to jail when drunk and save city money. In addition,
advocates feel certain this is intended solely for the homeless community,
as it is built in a poor area. The city council denied this.
The city is attempting to revitalize itself, which, Apper states,
has often resulted in the poor getting pushed out. People who attend the
Catholic Worker Houses soup line report being arrested, in downtown
Fresno, for sitting on walls (loitering), sleeping outside (trespassing),
and possessing a shopping cart (stealing). An anti-panhandling law was
backed by a public relations campaign to stop people from giving to panhandlers.
The public was reportedly told homeless people would use the money to
buy drugs and alcohol.
According to Apper, there were two separate sweeps of homeless encampments.
One was in front of service provider and the other sweep occurred several
blocks away on H St., in the downtown area. Approximately 300-400 people
resided in the first encampment and another 100 people resided on H St.
City workers under the supervision of the Fresno Police Department threw
all of the tents and personal belongings in front of the service provider
away. The city had notified the residents of this encampment using flyers
and posted signs; but had kept the exact day and time of their "raid"
a secret, therefore taking the people by surprise giving them no time
to gather their belongings. CalTrans workers with no prior warning destroyed
the H St. encampment.
One of the missions now has a "Tent City" where 44 people
can stay. At first, those wishing to stay there had to show a photo id
and be fingerprinted. Now people wanting to live in this "tent city"
must be "voted in" by the current residents. Still, this only
serves a fraction of the original encampment population.
Apper maintains the city, under redevelopment, does not want to see or
deal with the homeless.
Longs Drugs Stores in Fresno bought a K2000 device, which locks the wheels
of a shopping cart after it is taken 100 yards beyond the front door of
Recently some of the advocacy groups for the homeless, Food Not Bombs,
St. Benedict Catholic Worker and the Sleeping Bag Project have formed
a coalition and are meeting to discuss ways in which they can support
the homeless community in Fresno and stem the tide of "meanness" that
seems to be overtaking city attitudes and policies toward the homeless
#17 San Antonio,
Police are sometimes unfair in their enforcement
and frequently harass homeless people. They regularly issue multiple tickets
for loitering, panhandling, and public drunkenness, reports local legal
advocate Ana Novoa. Tickets are also issued for jaywalking, sleeping in
the park and urinating in public, which is often categorized as "illegal
disposal of waste" or "littering." Homeless people in San Antonio are
especially singled out for jaywalking, something she says everyone does,
but only homeless people seem to be ticketed for. The clinical program
is often able to convert the tickets from fines -- which the clients cannot
pay -- to a community service sentence, or to have the tickets thrown
out altogether. Arrests also occur on occasions when the city is having
a special event, such as the Cinco de Mayo festival.
San Antonio merchants are proposing a crackdown on urban camping
and panhandling. In April of 2004, City Councilman Roger Flores Jr. offered
proposals to ban "aggressive panhandling," including soliciting
donations at intersections, sitting or lying on sidewalks, camping in
parks, and urinating in public. An employee of one of the citys
largest service providers said, "If you dont have an alternate
place for these people, I dont know how effective [the ordinance
would be]." The office of Councilman Flores reported none of the
ordinances had been passed as of August 2004.
In contrast, Councilwoman Patti Radle offered a proposal in August 2004,
of a "Compassion Zone," in which people would be free from the
aforementioned restrictions, so there would be a place for people to go
to escape being harassed by the police. "The people have a constitutional
right to panhandle," she said on a local radio station. Radle is
a long-term poverty worker and advocate for homeless rights. Councilman
Roger Flores said Radles "heart is in the right place,"
but he questions her suggestion. He said that the council should not give
homeless people special rights to camp that are not provided to "ordinary
citizens." Radle also proposed the creation of "compassion cards"
with suggestions of where to go to find help, shelter, and meals.
Laws combined with intense enforcement
create a "hostile situation that is almost overwhelming," reports
shelter director Holly Gardemier in Milwaukee. The laws against loitering,
panhandling, and sleeping outside are strongly enforced in areas where
homeless people frequent, but not in other areas. Gardemier says individuals
waiting for the feeding areas to open are often ticketed for loitering.
The panhandling laws have succeeded; there is now almost no downtown panhandling.
"Obstruction of public access" is a charge commonly used, a
charge which can cover many areas.
Last years report, Illegal to be Homeless:
The Criminalization of Homelessness in the U.S. (August 2003)
spotlighted St. James Church because it had been declared a public
nuisance for allowing people to sleep on its property. A year later, though
city efforts have not been stepped up, they have not stopped either.
The city systematically closed all encampments under bridges and
rousted an encampment in a public park on a frigid February morning. There
are a few encampments remaining, but Gardemier feels it is only a matter
of time before they too, are targeted. The city has no plan to deal with
the displaced people after the sweep and the shelters are turning away
people every night, Gardemeir states. Advocate Joel Volk disagrees, noting
that homeless advocates are usually contacted before sweeps, so the individuals
can be placed in some sort of shelter.
#19 St. Paul, Minnesota
Advocate Fred Woods reports police conduct sweeps of outdoor encampments
on a bi-weekly basis, breaking up camps, and throwing away belongings.
Woods also states, police have taken IDs of loitering individuals
and were not giving them back, creating a huge problem for individuals
with no resources to obtain another ID.
Downtown business security patrols and police strictly enforce the
anti-loitering and trespassing laws, especially in the skyways.
Advocate Cindy Carlson reports police enforce laws arbitrarily
against homeless people in Manchester. For example, people found publicly
urinating might be cited for a sex offenselike indecent exposure.
Homeless people commonly receive citations for sleeping in public/or park
curfew violations, public lounging and storage of property on public property.
These laws, Carlson states, are enforced strictly against homeless people
because people who do not appear homeless will not be cited for lounging
or public storage. Police also regularly check IDs and search bags
of homeless people.
There is a downtown bus station (now called a "welcome center")
that has an overhang roof. On bad weather days many of the homeless people
gather there on park benches. These benches have now been removed. Ironically,
the park is named Veterans Park.
Consistent harassment of people in encampments pushes the
camps further into the woods, making it difficult for service providers
to reach those in need. A new criminal justice block grant, the "Weed-and-Seed"
program, seeks to "weed out" the "bad" people by tearing
down underbrush and trees camouflaging homeless encampments.
Carlson notes that sweeps occur every time there is an event
at the Verizon Civic Center, which is located only a few blocks from major
homeless service providers. Police move people along, and former havens
by the river are now being cleaned up as a new walkway is being put in.
A cemetery where many homeless people stayed is now refurbished, making
this haven off limits as well.
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