If you've lived in Memphis for any length of time, you're bound to have participated in a discussion concerning the issue of the issue of homelessness in this city.
Many cities in the U.S. have some kind of anti-homeless ordinances and policies. Most of them prohibit certain behavior common among homeless people, thereby essentially criminalizing the lifestyle of homelessness. According to a recent survey of service providers in 50 of the largest U.S. cities, 86% of the cities surveyed had laws that prohibited or restricted begging, while 73% prohibited or restricted sleeping and/or camping. Over 33% of the cities surveyed have initiated crackdowns on homeless people, according to the survey respondents, and almost 50% of the cities have engaged in police "sweeps" in the past two years.
The following list includes some examples of actions that have been outlawed in various U.S. cities with the aim of criminalizing homelessness:
- trespassing on rooftops
- laying or sitting on a sidewalk in a way that blocks the path of a pedestrian or requires pedestrians to reroute their course
- camping on private property without the express permission of the property owner
- taking a shopping cart off store property
- setting down a backpack for more than ten minutes on any sidewalk
- lying or sitting on any sidewalk in the city
- shaving, bathing or washing clothing items in any public restrooms
- sleeping anywhere in a vehicle
- wandering abroad and begging or "going about in public or private ways for the purpose of begging or to receive alms"
- lying or sitting down on a public sidewalk, or upon a blanket, chair, stool, or other object between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. in certain areas of the city
Although access to safe and secure housing seems to be only human rights issue concerning homeless people, homelessness is not just about housing. Through the above laws, our cities may be directly causing and/or aggravating the violation of the homeless person's right to an adequate standard of living, the right to education, the right to liberty and security of the person, the right to free movement, the right to privacy, the right to social security and the right to freedom from discrimination.
So what do you think? Do these laws effectively make it illegal to be homeless? Are the laws mentioned a direct or indirect violation of the inherent human rights of the homeless? Or are they a just and legal protection of private property and public peace? Which laws, specifically?