The Criminalization of Homelessness in U.S. Cities

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The Criminalization of Homelessness in U.S. Cities
By: NLCHP
28 November 2011
 

With poverty at record levels and as many as 3.5 million people homeless each year, a new report by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty shows that more and more cities are making it illegal to be homeless.

Criminalizing Crisis analyzes local policies in 234 cities and demonstrates the startling trend toward criminalizing basic acts necessary for homeless persons` survival, including eating and sleeping in public.

Of the 234 cities surveyed, the report shows that:

· 40 percent prohibit sleeping in public places;

· 33 percent prohibit sitting/lying in public places;

· 56 percent prohibit loitering in public places; and

· 53 percent prohibit begging in public places.

Among the 188 cities reviewed for both this report and the Law Center’s 2009 report, major trends include the following:

· 7 percent increase in prohibitions on begging or panhandling;

· 7 percent increase in prohibitions on sleeping; and

· 10 percent increase in prohibitions on loitering.

According to Criminalizing Crisis, supportive housing and shelter are much more cost effective than applying the criminal justice system to homelessness. Cost studies in 13 cities and states reveal that, on average, cities spend $87 per day to jail a person, compared to $28 per day for shelter. A Utah study shows that the annual cost for providing a homeless person supportive housing is $6,100, compared to $35,000 to jail them in a state prison.

The report also documents constructive alternatives to criminalization that some cities are using to address homelessness, and includes a comprehensive advocacy manual for advocates and homeless persons to grade the severity of criminalization laws in their cities and pursue constructive alternatives that address the root causes of homelessness and protect the rights and dignity of all people.

Download the Digital Version (PDF)

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