Cities across the country are cracking down on homeless people living in public spaces and criminalizing homelessness at the peak of one of the worst housing and foreclosure crises in America: That's the disturbing take-away from "Homes not Handcuffs," an annual report released July 14 by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty (NLCHP) and the National Coalition for the Homeless, which studies legislation targeted at the homeless and observes national trends among municipal governments' handling of homeless populations.
The study cited the 10 cities with the worst treatment of the homeless. Los Angeles and Orlando were first and third most offensive, respectively, while San Francisco was ranked seventh.
A combination of factors went into the assessment, including cities' general political climate toward homelessness, recent measures passed by the cities regarding the places where it's legal for the homeless to eat and sleep, and the cities' past history in criminalizing the homeless.
Seattle did not make the top 10. However, Mayor Nickels' controversial policy of sweeping the homeless from makeshift tentcity camps and aggressively limiting camping in parks was highlighted as a case study of criminalization of homelessness that has provoked a strong backlash from the community.
Supporters and contributors to the study condemned the majority of those trends and made an appeal for more cities to take constructive, rather than adversarial, approaches to decreasing visible homelessness and poverty in American cities.
"Criminalization of homelessness is not only an inhumane way of approaching people who are poor and vulnerable, but it is a counterproductive way of dealing with the problem," said Tulin Ozdeger, the NLCHP Civil Rights Program Director. "It costs more to jail a person than it does to provide permanent supportive housing."
Instead, advocates appealed for more programs targeting the long-term causes of homelessness and an increase in social services, particularly in cities experiencing higher levels of poverty and homelessness.
Full details of the report can be viewed at www.nlchp.org, the website of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty.