IV. Problem Statement/Consequences
(A) Economic Consequences
As the country fails to provide money for housing,
and as essential funds are cut from social services, the amount of money
spent to jail people for "quality of life" crimes increases.
The legal challenges resulting from criminalizing
homelessness have proven costly for both homeless people and for those
who prosecute them. Judgments against offending jurisdictions are not
sufficient payment for the loss of freedom, jobs while incarcerated, shelter
spaces and for the difficulty in finding employment once you have a "record."
Although anti-homeless ordinances violate HUDs
Consolidated Plan and should jeopardize any offending jurisdictions
access to Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), HOME Investment Partnership
Program (HOME), and McKinney/Vento federal funds, few charges are brought
against those cities because non-profit organizations risk their own funding
if they complain. Moreover, local ordinances that discriminate against
and criminalize the lives of homeless people often violate local, state,
and federal constitutions, thus exposing city governments and police departments
to civil liability. Ordinances that criminalize homeless people simply
perpetuate the problems of homelessness.
It is more expensive to detain a person in jail than
to house and offer services. According to the National Law Center on Homelessness
and Poverty 2003 report, Punishing Poverty: The Criminalization of Homelessness,
Litigation, and Recommendations for Solutions, the cost of providing jail,
excluding the cost of the police resources used in the arrest, exceeds
$40 per day. Some sources say the daily cost is as much as $140. In comparison,
the average cost of providing counseling, housing, food, and transportation
for one day is approximately $30.
In most cities there is a desperate lack of emergency
and permanent housing and support. Funds that might be used to fund programs
addressing the needs of homeless people are diverted to the criminal justice
(B) Social Consequences
Criminalization masks the social exclusion of homeless
people under the guise of public safety concerns. When cities warn tourists
and residents not to give money to panhandlers, they create the fear of
homeless individuals that leads to further discrimination. This criminalization
then helps to legitimize that fear.
Persons arrested or incarcerated for "quality
of life" offenses may lose access to employment, families and friends.
This loss also impacts employers who lose faith in hiring homeless people
because "they dont show up," or because they have "records."
Once incarcerated, these homeless individuals face
overcrowding, violence, abuse, or disease. The conditions in turn contribute
to additional social costs when the person is released and interacts again
Cities might be more successful developing programs
intended to reduce homelessness if the level of animosity among police,
service providers, and homeless persons was reduced. With a focus on training,
police might deal more effectively and efficiently with conflicts that
arise, without violating the civil rights of homeless people.
(C) Political Consequences
Laws criminalizing the circumstances of poverty, as
well as sanctioned or unsanctioned actions committed by law enforcement
officials, may violate both state constitutions and the U.S. Constitution.
For example, laws prohibiting or limiting panhandling and begging may
violate the First Amendment. The seizure or destruction of homeless peoples
property may violate the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable
search and seizure. Laws prohibiting sleep and other necessary activities
in public spaces may violate the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel
and unusual punishment. In addition, discriminatory enforcement of such
laws may constitute a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, which assures
equal protection under the law.
The criminalization of homelessness makes the struggle
to survive on the streets even more difficult, depressing, demoralizing,
and frightening, especially as the criminal justice system can itself
act as a major barrier to individual efforts to escape homelessness. Regardless
of the number of ordinances passed, homeless people still must eat, sleep,
and survive in public because often no alternative is available to them.
Once homeless people have been arrested for "quality
of life" violations, their criminal records grow, and as a result
they may be excluded from jobs and housing. Anyone incarcerated at least
30 days loses Social Security benefits during incarceration. Also, if
an individual receiving benefits is found to have an outstanding warrant,
she or he can be denied benefits. The Social Security Administration has
gone so far as to grant agencies an "incentive" of $400 per
person found to be in violation. In addition, when homeless persons do
not follow through with the process of criminal justice, such as failing
to pay traffic tickets or not appearing in court, warrants are issued
for their arrest and they may be subjected to further charges and/or jail
time. Money used to pay fines might otherwise be used for housing or other
needs. Finally, it may be difficult for homeless people to maintain the
mandated relationship with parole officers or with community service organizations.
Many homeless people lose all their possessions, even
difficult-to-obtain IDs, when they are arrested. In addition, police harassment
causes homeless people to miss appointments and/or interviews, reinforcing
their status as second-class citizens. Homeless persons who are employed
at the time of arrest and who are held in jail may lose their current
jobs. Even when people are only given citations and are not arrested,
the police may use the threat of arrest to intimidate individuals without
housing. Thus, there are many hidden effects of these policies.
Policies of criminalization defeat their own goals of removing homeless
people from public visibility because they simply create further barriers
for survival and undermine individual efforts to escape homelessness.
Such policies keep more people on the streets and increase problems related
to homelessness. When individuals are released from jail, they are still
homeless, and they have even more barriers and obstacles to overcome than
(E) Security Guards
and the Homeless Community
A few cities in the United
States have reached legal agreements with their municipalities to put
an end to police harassment of homeless people. A growing problem in the
United States is the rise in private security forces that wear uniforms
and mistreat homeless people. In a few cities, including Cleveland, Ohio,
these security guards are often off-duty Cleveland Police officers. These
privately-paid security officers are allowed to wear the uniform of the
municipal police force, and have close contact with the police. They have
the ability to detain homeless people and, subsequently, have them arrested.
When they are off-duty, these officers do not always abide by consent
decrees, legal settlements, or even the law with regard to panhandlers
or the rights of homeless people. People who spend a large number of hours
of the day on the streets report frequent and systematic abuse by private
security guards in the downtowns of our urban environments.
There are a growing number
of reports of increased tensions between homeless people and security
guards from around the United States, ranging from Business Improvement
District security in Atlanta, Georgia and Columbus, Ohio with their "Downtown
Ambassadors." These guards patrol the streets and intervene when they
see infractions of ﾒquality of lifeﾓ laws. In Reno, Nevada,
conflicts arise between the downtown casinos and homeless people. Fort
Worth, Texas, has made a significant effort to curtail panhandling, and
has drafted neighborhood associations into the fight.
In many communities, security
guards are indistinguishable from municipal police officers. Often, they
wear the same or similar uniforms, carry guns, and threaten arrest. It
may be impossible for homeless people to distinguish between an on-duty
municipal police officer and an off-duty security guard, and to negotiate
the legal landscape enforced by these guards.
For example, in Cleveland, despite an agreement with
the Police Department since 1999 not to "arrest, or threaten
to arrest or detain, any individuals, including homeless individuals for
performing innocent, harmless, inoffensive acts such as sleeping, eating,
lying, or sitting in or on public property," homeless people
are still being harassed by security guards, who are, typically, off-duty
police. These individuals are known to keep their CPD uniforms on, while
working as security guards for private businesses. This is especially
a problem in the urban core where finding access to transportation, food,
and a place where one can rest without being harassed becomes a difficult
These security guards,
who patrol private buildings in their uniforms, have been engaged in harassment
against homeless individuals that they encounter on public sidewalks and
around the private businesses they are to guard. Phoenix, Arizona, has
combined police and security outreach into one unit.
The security guards, especially
since the events of 2001, play a greater role in both numbers and visibility
in most American cities. Despite efforts to focus funding and attention
on those who live on the streets, the number of homeless people has increased
in most American cities. The security guards are employed to secure buildings
and businesses, but they often become much more. Security guards provide
the illusion of security to a fearful population. They are used to assure
cash registers do not stop ringing because of a perceived unsafe environment.
Security guards are highly visible, and many buildings pay a premium for
the guards to look like law enforcement officers. Unfortunately, they
have a much different mandate that is essentially a profit motive, with
little responsibility to serve the public good, as well as less accountability
than on-duty officers.
Although security guards may be highly trained and
respectful law enforcement officers during the day, they are paid to keep
a certain appearance within a building. Homeless people are viewed as
a threat to public safety. Media distortions, fear of the unknown, and
misguided information often turn homeless people into the scapegoats for
problems downtown. People who choose not to access the shelters, when
shelters exist, are blamed for high crime rates, the flight of wealthy
pedestrians and residents from the city, and the closing of businesses.
Security guards are often told in no uncertain terms to move homeless
people out of sight at all costs. They ignore the freedom to ask for money
or the freedom to be left alone.
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