Homelessness is a problem in America that, disappointingly, is often met with cynicism rather than compassion. Instead of calling on our better angels, many cities and states are increasingly punishing the homeless for having fallen. This comes even amid louder and louder cries from the likes of the GOP to shrink social safety nets and dissolve what little assistance may be available.
A string of laws have been being passed over the past several years in cities and states around the nation that, while not directly outlawing homelessness, make all of the ancillary activities that come with it a violation of law and a citable offense. Laws that make it illegal to lie on park benches or loiter in public spaces are on the rise. These sort of laws do nothing to end the problem of homelessness and show how little compassion the vocal or voting population has for their downtrodden neighbors.
In fact, many estimates have found that the cost of policing homeless persons as we currently do costs more than it would to house them.
A new study from the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (NLCHP) that looked at 187 cities found that in the past three years, laws designed to punish the homeless for being present on the street have increased 43 percent.
Going even further, laws that ban sleeping in private vehicles have increased 116 percent. This is an activity that is often a final stop for families on hard times before ending up on the street.
Keep in mind that these laws are being passed and spread at a time when income inequality is reaching record highs. But, there is a minority of positivity.
Some cities are taking an approach to combating homelessness that prioritizes rehoming these individuals. The NLCHP’s report points out a number of instances where caring for, rather than punishing, homeless persons proves to not only help the individual, but lower the financial burden of homelessness on the area.
Joshua is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire. You can follow him on Twitter @Joshual33.