Recently, cities across the United States have been cracking down on homeless people with ordinances and laws that go as far as to prevent the homeless from sleeping with a blanket, or even kicking them out of town. People in 31 cities across America can also be legally punished for feeding the homeless. Instead of preventing veterans or citizens from being forced to live on the streets, cities are punishing them.
Earlier this month in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, a 90 year old man was arrested for running a charity food event for the homeless. Arnold Abott now faces 60 days in jail and up to $500 in fines, just for feeding those in need. ThinkProgress reported that in April, Fort Lauderdale also began enforcing ordinances that makes the homeless’ possession of personal items in public illegal. Police can confiscate any items seen with a homeless person, after that the person is given 24 hours notice.
Things aren’t much better in Columbia, South Carolina. The city basically banned homeless people from being anywhere near downtown – it’s called the Emergency Homeless Response. The citizens of Columbia can call a special hotline to report the sighting of a homeless person. So the 1,518 homeless people in the downtown Columbia area have a choice of being arrested or get sent to a “homeless shelter” that they can’t leave unless on a sponsored shuttle. What’s more, the shelter can only house about 240 homeless people at one time, meaning the other 76 percent of Columbia’s homeless will face jail time.
A new study from the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty reports that 187 cities have increased output of laws that aim to punish the homeless for any type of street presence, an increase of 43 percent in the past three years.
Lawmakers and rich people alike claim that these local ordinances will reduce homeless crime and make the streets appear cleaner. If cities were worried about cleanliness or appearance, lawmakers could focus on supporting the homeless rather than criminalizing them.
Alex Chastain is a writer with Ring of Fire.