The Cruelty of Anti-Homeless Laws | Teen Ink

The Cruelty of Anti-Homeless Laws

October 18, 2010
By J.A.M. SILVER, Lacey, Washington
J.A.M. SILVER, Lacey, Washington
6 articles 0 photos 12 comments

Everyone has seen those people down on their luck, the ones that aren’t fortunate enough to have the simple things people take for granted like; a home, a bed, warmth. Each person has brushed off their pleading gazes and broken voices, but if any one of those people had to walk a mile in their shoes just for even one day; I’m positive they’d have a new respect for them. Although some may choose to ignore it, destitution is spreading across America like fire through a haystack, and as it does, it in turn exposes the cruelty and callousness of the government. With homelessness on the rise, and not enough shelters to support the unfortunate men, women and children with a place to live, more and more people are forced to live on the streets. Those people on the streets can only cling to whatever trivial things they might posses: a box to protect them from the rain, a spoon to eat with, and a picture of their family. But recently, more and more effort has been made toward ridding America’s streets of homeless people. This is wrong. To what extent will the government stretch their power and protect their political face and the state’s reputation? Does it matter that they are part of the problem and not the solution and that they are sequentially killing the American citizens that this country is made of?
There are various types of anti-homeless efforts taking place across America, depending on the state and its government. In some states, there are laws that have made it illegal to store private possessions in any public place and sleep or sit on public property. Some less significant anti-homeless laws that are now being enforced are loitering and open container laws. Also, law enforcement officers are performing sweeps of city areas where homeless people live. This destroys people’s personal belongings, some of which could be vital such as birth certificates or medications. In most places, panhandling or begging is also illegal. A survey done by the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) of 224 cities showed 28% prohibit “camping” in public [sic]. It also showed 27% prohibit lying or sitting in certain public places. And begging and aggressive panhandling was prohibited in 43% of these cities. These anti-homeless laws are escalating each year, with more local governments enforcing them annually. So why are these laws and restrictions in place? It definitely isn’t making anything better, rather making the problem worse. The government and local law enforcement officers sweeping the homeless under a rug give the other states, and even countries, the appearance of a clean and healthy city and economy when in reality, it’s far from that. Although people living on the streets may not reflect the city’s prosperity well, it is something that is necessary due to today’s bad economy and is steadily rising.

These laws that are recently in effect are not only immoral, but also violate the basic American rights. For instance, when begging or panhandling is made illegal, it violates the First Amendment component of Free Speech. The First Amendment protects the communication of ideas, so when a homeless person is asking for money, they are simply communicating their needs to another person and communicating to them that they need help. To say they can’t do so is unconstitutional. Another example is when sweeps of “homeless camps” destroy their personal property or searches and seizures of their belongings infringe upon the Fourth Amendment. Even though they are homeless they still have the constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures without probable cause. It is also unconstitutional to criminally punish a homeless person for performing life activities in public space. It violates the Eighth Amendment; the right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment, since they have nowhere else to do these activities. Some of these laws which weren’t originally targeted towards homeless people are now being used against the homeless and are being enforced by the standards of the law. This is wrong because the punishment must fit the crime and punishing homeless people for performing life activities is cruel considering they have nowhere else to do them. Being homeless is not against the law, but doing everything that’s necessary to live on the streets is illegal, so what are the millions of homeless people supposed to do?
There are many other solutions to cleaning up our streets, instead of just shoving the filth into a corner and making it seem like the problem is solved when really, it’s been made worse. Instead of prohibiting homeless activities and spending money to criminally punish them for simply making do with their situation, shelters could be built and day centers could be created to give them something to do during the day since homeless shelters are closed. Volunteers could help them apply for Social Security, food stamps, or income tax. Perhaps the people of our communities, churches, or schools, could lend a hand by volunteering to help these less fortunate people. Then the American citizens can truly understand why these Anti-Homeless Laws are wrong. These laws punish innocent and harmless people and are completely ludicrous. By volunteering and building more shelters and day centers, it will help them through the hard times in their life and get them onto their feet instead of letting them drown in a pool of discrimination and animosity directed towards them by the local government and even the people of our great states, simply because they’re down on their luck.

Criminalizing homeless activities forces people away from services they need, cost the government money for incarcerating repeat offenders, and make it increasingly difficult for the homeless population to get back on their feet. Instead of immorally and unconstitutionally punishing the homeless, the citizens of this country should support them and encourage them to get their lives straightened out. Maybe then the problem would be alleviated instead of shrouding it in a blanket of unconstitutional laws and immoral punishments.

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