Feature: Crime or Punishment?

Published April 2010 Vol. 14 Issue 4

by Margo Pierce, with contributions from Kimberly Gunning and Ross Evertson

photos by Adrian Diubaldo

Economic profiling treats homeless people as criminals.

In 2007, approximately 3.6 million people were homeless at some time in North America, according to a number of non-profit organizations. “Homelessness” is defined in a variety of ways, so it is impossible to paint a uniform picture of what this reality looks like, but the numbers show that homelessness has reached epidemic proportions. And looking around the country, for many communities a popular response is punishment.

 A man holds up a ticket in Denver for camping ilegaly . The ticket had no fine, but required him to go to Homeles Court.

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News Briefs: Nation’s homeless face more laws against them

Published April 2009 Vol. 13 Issue 3

A much-anticipated report gauging how American communities deal with their homeless will likely be released by summer 2009. Every two years the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) and the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty (NLCHP) publish a joint study documenting trends in U.S. cities toward the criminalization of homelessness.

In recent years, cities across the nation have increasingly passed stricter vagrancy laws that ban activities such as sleeping or sitting in public spaces, eating in public places and begging or panhandling. Denver joined the growing ranks of cities making it tougher to be homeless three years ago when it began enforcing new ordinances to curb panhandling downtown and along the 16th Street Mall.

According to the NCH’s ‘A Dream Denied,’ a report which studied cities nation-wide, between 2002 and 2007 there was a:

12% increase laws prohibiting begging in certain public places
18% increase in laws that prohibit aggressive panhandling
14% increase in laws prohibiting sitting or lying in certain public spaces
3% increase in laws prohibiting loitering or loafing

Michael Stoops, the Director of NCH, confirmed that although they haven’t finished compiling all the data yet, in their preliminary research NCH sees the trend toward criminalization continuing.

—Sarah Harvey