By Bauer Marshall
For the past 25 years, the criminalization of the homeless in the United States has been increasing.
As the National Coalition of Homeless points out, criminalization of homeless refers to laws that prohibit life sustaining activities “sleeping/camping, eating, sitting, and/or asking for money/resources in public spaces” and include criminal penalties if someone violates the ordinances.
This issue, while not dormant, I believe came to light more when Pastor Dwayne Black along with pastor Mark Sims and 90-year-old Arnold Abbott were arrested for feeding the homeless in Fort Lauderdale, Florida in 2014.
“We fed about six or seven people when the police approached,” Black told The Christian Post. “We actually said a prayer and then gave communion to the homeless. If feeding them is going to get me arrested, let me get arrested for giving them communion. The police stayed off to the side, but then they suddenly made a move forward, and Abbott and I stayed.”
Black further expounded, “We didn’t want the homeless to get arrested. Finally, we fed everybody and started to clean up. I honestly thought the police would let us go that evening, but then they made a move, and the reporters moved to circle us. I went to the police and said, ‘If you’re going to cite him [Abbott], you’re going to have to cite me too.”
“They said, ‘We don’t want to cite you,’ and I don’t know why — perhaps it was because I was clergy — but they eventually did cite me. And we will be back serving the people again on Sunday and Wednesday as well. We tried to explain to the police — this is my religion — this is deep within the DNA of my Christian church. Christ said, ‘Feed my sheep.’ This is deep within us,” Black added.
According to the aforementioned organization as of November 2014, these cities enforce some form of banning, restricting or relocating food sharing practices:
Also, a July 2009 report by the National Law Center on Homelessness, is alarming.
While the full report (which is 194 pages) is too long to reproduce, here are some tidbits and the rest of the report can be read at:
Since 2007, here are some of the worst cities for criminalizing the homeless as stated by the report:
Los Angeles, CA – According to a study by UCLA released in September 2007, Los Angeles was spending $6 million a year to pay for fifty extra police officers as part of its Safe City Initiative to crack down on crime in the Skid Row area at a time when the city budgeted only $5.7 million for homeless services. Advocates found that during an 11-month period 24 people were arrested 201 times, with an estimated cost of $3.6 million for use of police, the jail system, prosecutors, public defenders and the courts. Advocates asserted that the money could have instead provided supportive housing for 225 people. Many of the citations issued to homeless persons in the Skid Row area were for jaywalking and loitering — “crimes” that rarely produce written citations in other parts of Los Angeles.
St. Petersburg, FL – Since early 2007, St. Petersburg has passed 6 new ordinances that target homeless people. These include ordinances that outlaw panhandling throughout most of downtown, prohibit the storage of personal belongings on public property, and make it unlawful to sleep outside at various locations. In January 2007, the Pinellas-Pasco Public Defender announced that he would no longer represent indigent people arrested for violating municipal ordinances to protest what he called excessive arrests of homeless individuals by the City of St. Petersburg. According to numbers compiled by the public defender’s office, the vast majority of people booked into the Pinellas County Jail on municipal ordinances were homeless individuals from St. Petersburg.
Orlando, FL – In 2006, the Orlando City Council passed a law that prohibited groups sharing food with 25 or more people in downtown parks covered under the ordinance from doing so more than twice a year. A member of one of the groups that shares food regularly with homeless and poor people in Orlando parks was actually arrested under the ordinance for sharing food. A federal district court found the law unconstitutional; however, the City of Orlando has appealed the
In 2012 Rhode Island passed the Homeless Bill of Rights.
This bill states:
§ 34-37.1-3 Bill of Rights. – No person’s rights, privileges, or access to public services may be denied or abridged solely because he or she is homeless. Such a person shall be granted the same rights and privileges as any other resident of this state. A person experiencing homelessness:
(1) Has the right to use and move freely in public spaces, including, but not limited to, public sidewalks, public parks, public transportation and public buildings, in the same manner as any other person, and without discrimination on the basis of his or her housing status;
(2) Has the right to equal treatment by all state and municipal agencies, without discrimination on the basis of housing status;
(3) Has the right not to face discrimination while seeking or maintaining employment due to his or her lack of permanent mailing address, or his or her mailing address being that of a shelter or social service provider;
(4) Has the right to emergency medical care free from discrimination based on his or her housing status;
(5) Has the right to vote, register to vote, and receive documentation necessary to prove identity for voting without discrimination due to his or her housing status;
(6) Has the right to protection from disclosure of his or her records and information provided to homeless shelters and service providers to state, municipal and private entities without appropriate legal authority; and the right to confidentiality of personal records and information in accordance with all limitations on disclosure established by the Federal Homeless Management Information Systems, the Federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, and the Federal Violence Against Women Act; and
(7) Has the right to a reasonable expectation of privacy in his or her personal property to the same extent as personal property in a permanent residence.
History of Section.
(P.L. 2012, ch. 316, § 1; P.L. 2012, ch. 356, § 1.)
“Today, in Rhode Island, hatred, bigotry and discrimination is not accepted,” said John Joyce, co-founder of the Rhode Island Homeless Advocacy Project and one of the law’s authors.
Let’s hope other states figure out a more humane way to deal with homeless like RI, because if not violations of the First, Fourth, Eight and 14th will continue.
Side Bar: National
It is estimated that 1 in 6 Americans go hungry on a daily basis.1
The 2013 Hunger and Homelessness Survey, conducted by the United States Conference of Mayors found:
83% (19 of 25) of cities surveyed, in 2013, reported an increase in the number of emergency food requests from the previous year
With a growing increase of need:
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