In July of last year USA Today published a report stating that cities were passing laws detrimental to the homeless. Laws forbidding public ‘camping,’ sleeping on sidewalks, in front of stores, or in any other public place. Some cities were passing laws making it illegal to sleep in vehicles. A few went as far as forbidding sitting in public places.
Laws criminalizing homeless persons were on the rise as downtown redevelopment agencies began building upscale living quarters in formerly blighted areas. Fewer affordable housing units were available, increasing the number of homeless families.
In November of 2014 Chef Arnold Abbott was arrested in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for feeding gourmet meals to homeless people. Abbott is 90 years old.
In 2015 the trend may be changing and actually reversing itself. Indianapolis, Indiana, has become the first city in the United States to pass a Homeless Bill of Rights. The measure was passed on Monday and only needs the mayor’s signature to become law. The bill protects the rights of homeless people to freely move in public, receive equal treatment from public agencies, receive emergency medical care, to vote, and secure protection for personal property. In addition those living in homeless camps will receive 15 days’ notice before eviction, and the city would store their belongings for 60 days. Those in favor of the law say that it is not only a moral obligation but will also save the city money by not incarcerating those living on the streets of their city.
Other cities are considering similar laws which would allow homeless people to sit, eat, stand and sleep in public areas.
Laws negatively affecting the homeless increased after 1980 when the government cut funds for affordable housing, and again after the recession in 2008. In both situations additional legislation was the result of increased numbers of homeless individuals and families.
A common sense approach is encouraged by advocates for the homeless. They direct their focus on the criminalization of individuals; having a criminal record will increase their difficulty to obtain employment, and therefore offer no decrease in their growing numbers.
Advocacy groups’ ideal would be a federal Homeless Bill of Rights, but they don’t see that happening. Federal legislators have displayed little or no concern for the plight of homeless persons.
The fight will continue on a city by city or state by state process. Many states have already passed legislation declaring physical attacks on the homeless ‘hate crimes.’
Those of us living in suburban or rural areas fail to possess firsthand knowledge of this growing national embarrassment. The statistics don’t lie.
- As of January, 2014, the United States had 578,424 people living in homeless conditions.
- 216,197 of those persons were families.
- 362,163 were individuals.
- 84,291 were considered ‘chronically homeless.’
- 49,933 were veterans.
Homeless children are the fastest increasing statistic of the homeless population. Income inequality has increased the number of families living at the poverty level. With affordable housing on the decline, there is a very small distance between the impoverished and homelessness.
This is our national shame. In a country which contains over 100 billionaires, not a single person should be denied the basic necessities of life; food, shelter, and clothing.
Our government not only ignores this growing problem, it actually encourages the situation. By eliminating or decreasing funds for social programs, attempts made by individuals and families to increase their quality of life is futile.
City governments are directly affected by increasing numbers in the homeless population, and they have decided to take action.
By James Turnage