A Word on Homeless Policy in the United States *Spoiler Alert* It Sucks

In America, it is estimated that 3.5 million people are currently homeless. In the same country, census data indicate that approximately 18.5 million houses currently sit vacant.

In addition, a barrage of new laws in major cities across the US have made it a crime to even offer food to the hundreds of thousands of people starving in the streets.

That’s right, it is illegal to feed the homeless in Orlando, Houston, Dallas, Seattle, Las Vegas,  and New York city just to name a few.

Even more abhorrent are laws and edicts making it illegal to simply be without a home.

Al Szekely, a wheelchair-bound, homeless Vietnam veteran was taken from a shelter in Washington D.C. and thrown in Jail for a warrant.  His crime? Being "caught" sleeping on a sidewalk in a Washington suburb.

Al Szekely, a wheelchair-bound, homeless Vietnam veteran was taken from a shelter in Washington D.C. and thrown in Jail.
His crime? Being “caught” sleeping on a sidewalk in a Washington suburb.

Despite the fact that housing is globally recognized as a basic human need/right, cities across the country are spending money punishing the homeless instead of helping them.

In a report published by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty and the National Coalition for Homeless,

  • There has been a 7% increase in laws prohibiting “camping” in particular public places.
  • There has been an 11% increase in laws prohibiting loitering in particular public places.
  • There has been a 6% increase in laws prohibiting begging in particular public places and a 5% increase in laws prohibiting aggressive panhandling.

All of this in the midst of rising homelessness due to the recent recession and despite the fact that it is much cheaper to provide housing for the homeless than to sanction them for a “crime” that many of them have no control over.

In her 2009 Op-Ed entitled “Is it Now a Crime to Be Poor?” Barbara Enrenriech comments on the recent aggression toward homeless peoples by the state:

The pattern is to curtail financing for services that might help the poor while ramping up law enforcement: starve school and public transportation budgets, then make truancy illegal. Shut down public housing, then make it a crime to be homeless. Be sure to harass street vendors when there are few other opportunities for employment. The experience of the poor, and especially poor minorities, comes to resemble that of a rat in a cage scrambling to avoid erratically administered electric shocks.

The United States is rife with ridiculous and backwards policies, but these laws of aggression against fellow Americans are much more than that. By continuing to criminalize the homeless and those who seek to alleviate their suffering, our government is literally financing human rights violations on its own soil. All of this occurring in a country that produces enough food to meet the entire populace’s caloric intake and that has enough vacant homes to house its homeless population five times over.

Anyone with eyes in their head can see that these laws are an embarrassment, and the fact that they continue to be enforced is a blatant atrocity.

I would encourage anyone who reads this post to examine their own city’s policies toward the homeless – perhaps a little civil disobedience is in order.

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One Comment on “A Word on Homeless Policy in the United States *Spoiler Alert* It Sucks

  1. I recently talked to someone who runs a homeless shelter in a Wisconsin city… it’s sad to hear about situations where there is a poor relationship between a shelter and the local government.

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