Homelessness isn’t a crime.
Yet, many people that are homeless are arrested for….well……being homeless.
According to The Coloradoan, “members of the homeless population in Fort Collins say they’re treated like criminals because of what they call unjust urban camping and trespassing”. The homeless population in Fort Collins regularly set up tents on park grounds or empty lots in order to sleep, but lately they have been receiving tickets from Fort Collins police for camping in natural areas. Obviously they can’t afford to pay those tickets. Since they can’t afford to pay those tickets and they also can’t afford to sleep in a motel for the night, those tickets start to pile up. Once those tickets start to pile up and they owe the city a lot of money, they end going to jail. When they are released from jail, guess where they go that night to sleep. Yup, the same place where they received the tickets to begin with. The homeless community in Fort Collins started protesting the camping ban that the city has put on and spoke with the organizer of the protest ,Elizabeth Osborn, who stated “If I had $100, I wouldn’t be sleeping by the railroad tracks…..all it does is keep people on the streets.”photo by Austin Humphreys/The Coloradoan
My very own hometown of San Antonio, Texas, was reported by the Huffington Post for having handed out more than 12,000 citations between January 2013 and October 2014. The citations ranged but included “…aggressive soliciting of donations, camping in public and sitting or lying in the right of way of others.” Who knew that you while being homeless, you were not allowed to sit on that stairwell because you were in the way. They also reported that since 2011 the city of San Antonio had increased the city bans on camping in public areas by 60 percent. Increasing punishments is not going to help the homeless community in any way. If anything its going to create an endless cycle and have people on the streets longer to due debts being owed to the city.
Today, September 9th, there was a rally held by protestors in New York city because cops started harassing the homeless living in homeless camp sites…just like in Fort Collins. They were all chantingChanting “Homes not Jails” and “Housing not Shelters.” At the protest,”Angel Stark, 29, a legally blind homeless woman who attended Wednesday’s event, said that shelters are especially dangerous for disabled people, who are vulnerable to violence by other shelter residents.” Shelters are dangerous place and many times have a limit as to how many people they allow each day. Lately, New York has seen an increase in renting prices, especially since there really isn’t a cap to what people can charge for rent. According to an article by Al Jazeera America, “Nikita Price, an organizer with Picture the Homeless, blamed East Harlem’s homelessness problem on rapid gentrification, as rising rents push people out of their homes. The average price of a two-bedroom apartment has increased from $2,200 to $2,500 a month in the last year, or about 14 percent, according to New York real estate trade publication The Real Deal.” People can’t afford to live in their own city anymore and the city won’t allow them to be homeless. What are they supposed to do?
Middle aged and older people are not the only homeless citizens in a city. Fox News 13 out of Salt Lake City reported that, “at any given time, there are between 800 and 1,000 young people living on the streets in Utah.” The youth are starting at a young age what living out in the streets really means. Never knowing when your next meal is. Never knowing if you’re safe. Its hard. Luckily an organization, by the name of Volunteers of America, in Salt Lake built a bigger facility to help the homeless youth and help them avoid getting tickets from sleeping on the streets and being harassed by police and receiving tickets.
Many will argue that the homeless should go to homeless shelters in order to avoid tickets and harassment but how safe are these shelters? One article by the Washington Post states,”In Santa Cruz, Calif., more than 80 percent of the homeless have no safe shelter options”. Many shelters are over populated, are full of drugs, violence, rape, and alcohol. Not all homeless are doing drugs and drinking so they want to avoid the shelters so that they know they’re safe, hence the camping. In Camden New Jersey, the Courier Post reports that a program coordinator a non profit shelter that always showed how much he cared about the homeless and was proactive in helping them, was actually running an open air drug market in the shelter. He, along with 5 other men, were selling crack cocaine and heroin. Who knows what he was making the homeless people do or if he was selling the drugs directly to the homeless people that were merely trying to get a warm nights sleep without any worries.
The cities I listed are not the only ones that are being harsh on the homeless population. You can go onto NationalHomeless.org and see their list of the “meanest cities” that are criminalizing the homeless. This year, Boise Weekly reported that the U.S. Department of Justice said that Boise’s anti-camping ordinance is “poor public policy.” The Department of Justice also stated,”Sleeping is a life-sustaining activity, if a person literally has nowhere else to go, then enforcement of the anti-camping ordinance against that person criminalizes [him or] her for being homeless.” If the DOJ can knock down the prejudice walls of Boise, then why can’t they do it in all of the cities that are making these ordinances?
With more people moving to bigger cities and the population increasing, things are getting harder and harder. The homeless population is rising, not decreasing. The LA Times reported in May of this year that,”The homeless population jumped 12% in the last two years in both the city and county of Los Angeles, driven by soaring rents, low wages and stubbornly high unemployment.” The homeless population rose by 12 percent! In a city that has over 10 million people, that is an outrageous increase.
The criminalization and the oppression of homelessness needs to end. The cities think that handing out a ticket will help. How will charging people, with no home and no food, help them change? It won’t. The effort the city puts into making new laws and ordinances as well as the time the police spend harassing these people could all be spent helping make a change instead.