Homelessness and its Criminaliztion
As homelessness has increased across the country, so has
the number of people living in public places. Shelters do not provide enough space to house the number of homeless people. On any given night there are at
least as many individuals on the streets as in shelters.
This article argues that instead of implementing
criminalization policies cities should address the causes of homelessness. Beginning with an overview of homelessness this article then reviews recent efforts by local
governments to criminalize activities related to homelessness and the
litigation challenging their efforts.
Cities have responded
to this trend by passing criminal laws that target homeless people and
activities related to homelessness such as panhandling or sitting and sleeping
in public. Cities are also using rarely enforced vagrancy and loitering laws to target homeless people. Constitutional challenges to such laws have
been filed in courts across the country and many city actions have been
invalidated as a result.
The article proposes that laws criminalizing
activities related to homelessness are unlikely to be constitutional or
effective in meeting their goals. The article also addresses public policy
concerns as well as city responses to court rulings.