New Report: It's Illegal to Be Homeless in America
"Criminalizing Crisis" Reveals Disturbing Trends in City policies
November 15, 2011
A report released by the Law Center on Tuesday shows that more and more cities are making it illegal to be homeless. "Criminalizing Crisis" analyzes local policies in 234 cities and demonstrates the startling trend toward criminalizing basic acts necessary for homeless persons' survival, including eating and sleeping in public.
With poverty at record levels and as many as 3.5 million people homeless each year, a report released by the Law Center on Tuesday shows that more and more cities are making it illegal to be homeless. Criminalizing Crisis analyzes local policies in 234 cities and demonstrates the startling trend toward criminalizing basic acts necessary for homeless persons' survival, including eating and sleeping in public.
Criminalizing Crisis, a report released today by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, reveals that local laws criminalizing homelessness are increasing in cities across the country.
Of the 234 cities surveyed, the report shows that:
- 40 percent prohibit sleeping in public places;
- 33 percent prohibit sitting/lying in public places;
- 56 percent prohibit loitering in public places; and
- 53 percent prohibit begging in public places.
Among the 188 cities reviewed for both this report and the Law Center's 2009 report, major trends include the following:
- 7 percent increase in prohibitions on begging or panhandling;
- 7 percent increase in prohibitions on sleeping; and
- 10 percent increase in prohibitions on loitering.
Law Center Executive Director Maria Foscarinis said, "It's unconscionable to punish homeless people for their misfortune, but it's also irrational fiscal policy, as this report illustrates. "
According to Criminalizing Crisis, supportive housing and shelter are much more cost-effective than applying the criminal justice system to homelessness. Cost studies in 13 cities and states reveal that, on average, cities spend $87 per day to jail a person, compared to $28 per day for shelter. A Utah study shows that the annual cost for providing a homeless person supportive housing is $6,100, compared to $35,000 to jail them in a state prison.
The report also documents constructive alternatives to criminalization that some cities are using to address homelessness, and includes a comprehensive advocacy manual for advocates and homeless persons to grade the severity of criminalization laws in their cities and pursue constructive alternatives that address the root causes of homelessness and protect the rights and dignity of all people.
To read the full report, click here.
To access an archived version of the Law Center's webinar on the report, click here.