National Coalition for the Homeless
Illegal to be Homeless: The Criminalization of Homelessness in the United States
The police have been increasing sweeps and using targeted enforcement against the homeless population.
Neighborhood community councils and the police are forcing homeless men and women to find new places to live. At least 25 ≠ 30 people live in the wooded area around Goose Lake. Some people have been living in the area for two years. Officers are beginning to make sweeps through the camp informing the residents that they will have to tear down their camps and move on. The limited shelter capacity in the area will make it hard for people to find alternative living situations.
Ann Arbor, MI
Peter Marshall, the owner of English Language Arts Inc., wants to eliminate panhandling in the business district. Residents complain that his interests are to promote retail and commerce in the area by "hiding" the homeless. Some argue that the elimination of panhandling will cause those more fortunate citizens to forget about the homeless and their need for humanitarian support.
Bob Ornelas, Mayor of Arcata, and the majority of the City Council defend their position to crack down on camping on city property. A homeless man named Tad recently staged a protest by camping on the Arcata Plaza. The land that Tad had been living on was recently purchased by the city. The van he had been living in was removed by police shortly after. Dave Merserve, the only Councilman to oppose the no camping law, is urging the city to find a solution that will benefit the residents of Arcata and be fair to the homeless.
Police are cracking down on illegal conduct such as blocking sidewalks, public drunkenness, drug use or sale, illegal camping, littering, and relieving oneself in public. Officers claim this is not a homeless issue, but rather itís about crime. This form of "tough love" treatment of the homeless is considered to be a controversial plan because while it does hide the problem it does not solve it. Lawrence Wood, a homeless man, is enraged by this and explains that being arrested does not intimidate him.
The downtown business community in Asheville is concerned about loitering around restaurants and stores. Business owners see the homeless as a threat and some want the police to take a greater role in controlling the homeless population. This past November the City Council voted unanimously to pass a law that bans all panhandling, loitering, and public urination. The panhandling law will cover all groups from Girl Scout troops to homeless individuals. Advocates fear that selective enforcement of these laws will become the norm. Holly Jones, a councilwoman, brought up the discussion of additional funds for a downtown shelter and more public restrooms only after the ordinance had been passed.
The City of Atlanta escalates its criminalization of homelessness initiatives under yet another facade. A "Mayor's Homelessness Commission" was created late in 2002 and continues as the newest attempt to supercede an already existing collaborative of shelter and service providers that was created by the Metro-Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless over 20 years ago. Atlantaís new Chief of Police espouses the "broken windows" theory of law enforcement ≠ arresting or citing people for petty crimes such as jaywalking or loitering in an effort to prevent more serious crime. This policy is utilized in New York City as well as Los Angeles.
In that vein, increased enforcement of "quality of life" ordinances has been decorated with catch phrases like: 1) cleaning up the streets 2) cracking down on crime and 3) stepping up public safety. These laws have been inappropriately named "quality of life ordinances," and they do nothing to improve the quality of life for anyone. Instead, they cater to the prejudices of those people who would rather not see or interact with homeless people. Vocal business people claim that homelessness is bad for business. Exposing the reality of the deprivation that exists amidst the affluence in Atlanta is not the picture advertised by the Chamber of Commerce. The police department regularly enforces ordinances such as criminal trespassing, public urination, urban Camping, removing or abandoning shopping carts, begging or soliciting, loitering or "prowling", staying in a vacated building, and jaywalking on those people without housing in order to remove them from the public eye. Other ordinances punish the simple behaviors of entering a bathroom, littering, and walking in the roadway.
Since there are no "public restrooms" and business establishments deny the use of their facilities to anyone other than patrons, one would have to ask where a person without housing would go to use a toilet? Where would they sleep, stand or even sit?
Besides making it illegal to carry out bodily functions without providing a place where they can be performed privately, there are also ordinances such as "DC-6, Occupying a Dive" and "blocking a public sidewalk" that are used during sweeps of poor and homeless individuals from the streets of Atlanta.
:Occupying a dive: involves being in a drug traffic zone. Individuals can be arrested for being in the wrong area of town. This ordinance is often used throughout the course of a night to arrest up to 20 or 25 individuals. Homeless individuals are often the targets of arrest because they have no choice but to be outside in these high drug traffic zones after they have been run out of the "better" neighborhoods.
The :Idle and Loiter for Illicit Sex: is also a :streets-sweeper: ordinance. There are countless instances of undercover APD officers luring individuals into their cars with promises of money or a free ride and then pulling around the corner to where a paddy wagon is waiting to take them to jail for allegedly propositioning the officer for sexual acts. This ordinance has also been used to pick up 20 or 25 individuals within several hours. APD officers will then often add the charge of "Solicitation of Sodomy" (Sodomy, in Georgia, includes any act of oral sex) to insure that individuals arrested will receive jail time or have something to plead down to in court. During the summer of 2003 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Texas sodomy law was unconstitutional, therefore overturning all state sodomy laws.
The selective enforcement of these ordinances, coupled with entrapment and stopping homeless people without probable cause, asking for identification and running a criminal records check to look for outstanding warrants, creates an environment of prejudice and abuse.
Recent newspaper articles, columns and editorials in Atlantaís only newspaper undo 15 years of advocacy and policy work by defining homelessness as a public safety issue.
If you no longer have private space of your own, you must cease to sit, stand or urinate while awake and sleeping in public is strictly prohibited.
Incarcerated homeless people confirm that APD officers conduct systematic sweeps of homeless people near housing projects and in parks as often as twice a week. The sweeps are intensified immediately before major events and conventions in Atlanta. One homeless man was arrested for public urination the day of the second major league playoff baseball game. The officer told the man that the order had come from City Hall East to arrest anyone carrying a bag or who looked homeless. The public official who issued the order told the officer that if homeless individuals were arrested and harassed enough, maybe they would leave town.
Community courts (largely funded by downtown foundations and businesses) routinely sentence homeless people to outpatient drug treatment, even if there is no evidence of drug use or related charges. When the defense attorney objected that her client did not use drugs and that drug use bore no relationship to the charge, the presiding judge claimed that all homeless people need drug treatment.
Treatment is often part of the sentence, but the difficulty in this alternative sentencing is that services are being diverted to people whose very service needs have become the target of criminalization ordinances. In other words, the community court is becoming the general "intake and referral" system for poor and homeless people who need mental health care and substance abuse treatment and routinely request that treatment, but are denied it until they are arrested. Once released from treatment, they stand little chance of getting housing because of the criminal records.
The community courts sentence homeless individuals to community service through a shelter facility when they cannot pay the fines for committing "quality of life" ordinance violations. Community service hours are given out liberally. Thus, those who were swept from the streets of Atlanta today may in, short order, be sweeping the streets themselves, and they may have lost their jobs in the process.
Atlantic Beach, FL
Beach officials have reported that the number of homeless people on the beach has risen about 50% compared to last year. City officials voted to ban sleeping on the beach between the hours of 11 PM and 6 AM. Use of public parks for any reason was also banned between sunrise and sunset or 8 PM and 6 AM, whichever is later.
City officials have banned all forms of panhandling. It is unclear whether only aggressive panhandlers will be arrested despite the fact that the ordinance covers all people asking for money. If arrested they could be charged for disorderly conduct, which is a misdemeanor.
McCarty Park has been a well known "hang-out" for the homeless population in downtown Aurora. Beginning during the summer of 2002 residents are now making it uncomfortable to stay in the park by putting dividers in benches, boarding up a gazebo, and pulling out bushes where people stored their belongings. These efforts may clean up the park but homeless advocates say they are just moving homeless people elsewhere. A woman, who provides free weekly lunches, has been strongly encouraged not to. Locals hope that police will support their cleanup efforts by forcing people to leave the park. James Cooper, a 45 year-old homeless man, has come to the park everyday for eight years, "Itís the only place we can come and feel safe and not be bothered by anyone."
Panhandling is now illegal within 25 feet of crosswalks and ATM machines. A homeless man named David Colbert has been ticketed for violating these laws. He argues that the police have invaded his rights since he claims he was 25 feet from a crosswalk and they "pick" on him because he is homeless. Flyers around Austin warn people to not give money to panhandlers because they will more likely than not use it for drugs and alcohol. The flyers encourage people to report panhandlers by calling 911 and inform them of food and shelters.
Homeless rights advocates are considering legal action against the city for ticketing people who are sleeping in public. Currently people are receiving these tickets under the no camping ordinance, but the City Council struck the sleeping reference in 2000. Officers are allowed to give tickets to people who are blocking sidewalks or doorways but homeless people are being given tickets regardless of where they are sleeping.
City Hall, the state attorneyís office, the police department, and the business community have pushed for a crack down on nuisance crimes such as pubic intoxication. Homeless advocacy groups argue that nuisance crimes will simply create a "never-ending cycle" of homelessness.
Business owners and police and code enforcement officers contend that a segment of the homeless population creates a negative image for the city and health hazards for the entire community. The city spokesperson, John Rader, cites the homeless population as a barrier to marketing the city for tourism. Local residents are discouraged to give money to panhandlers.
A community in South Boston is attempting to ban a homeless outreach van from coming to their neighborhoods. The Pine Street Inn, the regionís largest homeless shelter began sending out teams of social workers and nurses to the neighborhood in 1986. The vans have always been controversial. A Pine Street Inn spokeswoman said, "The real mission of the van is to establish relationships with the most vulnerable groups, and to encourage them to come off the streets." The City Council member James M. Kelly, who represents the district, said, "They [the van] could come back, so long as they take the derelicts with them." An agreement was reached between the Pine Street Inn and the neighborhood but it does not appear promising. Kelly stated that the van would be able to return if the outreach workers only supplied medical care. A spokesperson for the Pine Street Inn firmly stated that the van would continue to distribute blankets and food in addition to the medical care they provide.
New panhandling laws went into effect in February 2003. The City Council passed a law making it illegal to spend any more time on a median, or an island next to a highway ramp, than is "reasonably necessary" to cross the street. Protesters took to the medians the morning after the vote but were not given tickets by passing police officers, therefore adding to the belief that the law will be selectively enforced against homeless individuals. The city council also restricted panhandling on Pearle Street Mall and the University Hill business district, the two main shopping districts. The restrictions create zones free of spoken begging around buildings, restaurant patios, and vending carts.
A recent study conducted by the Colorado Daily, a newspaper, found that one out of every five people who appear in the cityís Municipal Court for a minor infringement of the law is homeless. The study also found that more than half of the homeless people who stand accused of quality-of-life crimes such as sleeping are jailed as a result.
Brevard County, FL
Homeless advocates were able to successfully reduce the impact of a city ordinance that originally planned to prohibit sleeping in public, including sleeping in a car. The ordinance that passed the City Council made it illegal to sleep on a county controlled beach between 10pm and 5am except in those areas where camping is permitted. The ordinance also states that no arrest can be made if a shelter bed is not available. Brevard County has a homeless population of 2,400 and fewer than 100 emergency shelter beds. The City Council also agreed to match funds for a proposed 56-bed shelter.
Activists argue that city officials are taking an "out of sight, out of mind" approach to the homeless. Police and code enforcement officers forced a group of homeless men to move several times after neighborhood concerns arose. The men originally inhabited an area near the city dump in makeshift shelters, and were told to move to a remote area along the river. The police gave the men maps to the new campground. The camp along the river was far away from all emergency services. The mayor and city attorney, however, are forcing the men to move again, stating that camping is not allowed in that area and the city cannot sanction their campground for liability issues.
Restaurant and business owners feel panhandlers threaten their businesses. Police patrolling on bikes are attempting to keep the panhandlers away from customers.
Residents of one neighborhood feel the increasing homeless population is making the town unsafe for the children. Pat Wilkinson, a local resident, is leading the charge against the homeless population and has requested city officials to erect an eight-foot fence to keep the homeless population out of her neighborhood. Police officers made it clear that no one will be arrested unless a law is broken.
The Internal Affairs Committee passed a proposal to the City Council that would ban aggressive and deceptive panhandling. The City Council voted unanimously to pass the new ordinance. The regulations define aggressive and deceptive panhandling as: between sunset and sunrise, approaching a person within three feet, following people, blocking or interfering with the passage of pedestrians or vehicles, touching a person or vehicle without consent, using violent gestures, approaching people in groups of two or more. Panhandling would also be banned from bus stops, within 15 feet of a building entrance or exit, and a crosswalk or any fence. The ban extends to 50 feet from banks, ATMs, and vending machines. Panhandlers could not solicit while seated on or leaning against any public bench, planter, monument, or public property.
Laws affecting panhandlers are increasing in Cincinnati. A law that went into effect in April 2002 prohibits panhandling in any public transportation vehicle or at a bus stop, within 20 feet of an ATM or bank entrance, from the operator of a motor vehicle or a person entering or exiting a motor vehicle, within 20 feet of a crosswalk, from a person waiting in line to enter a commercial establishment, or on private property without permission. It also prohibits people from representing themselves in a false or misleading way or panhandling before sunrise or after dark. The city now also requires panhandlers to have a permit for verbal solicitation. The permits could be revoked based on complaints and aggressive panhandling. If someone panhandles aggressively, or solicits verbally without a license, they face up to $250 in fines and 30 days in jail. A media campaign centered on discouraging people from giving money to panhandlers is also underway. Mayor Charlie Luken is insisting that the 28 year-old Drop Inn Center denounce panhandling and refuse service to those that commit crimes. Luken has suggested that the centerís state and city funding could be cut which would severely affect the centerís budget.
The radio station 700 WLW and the DJ Bill "Willy" Cunningham conducted what they called a "Derelict Round-up." This was a publicity stunt during which they ran an ongoing live broadcast from a bus taking "bums" to West Chester, supplying them with "malt-liquor" and "cheap wine." When the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless protested this dehumanizing stunt Cunningham screamed at them telling them to "go to hell" and hung up the phone. Cunningham continued on the air saying how filthy homeless people are and how they are "degenerates."
As this report was going to print, Cincinnati was threatening to remove people experiencing homelessness from underneath bridges. The Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) originally stated that the removal of people from under bridges was not permissible under existing laws. The land belongs to the state, therefore the city had no authority to remove the people living there. However, ODOT later changed their tune and sent a letter to the city stating that the city had the authority to remove people from underneath the overpasses. The Police began posting No Trespassing signs on July 14 and informed everyone living under the expressways that they had till 1 p.m. on July 18 to move. Local advocates, supporters, and social service workers arrived at the camps early on the 18th to help with relocation and to protest the cityís actions. Shortly before 2 p.m. Jennifer Kinsley, a local lawyer, arrived at the largest camp and produced a temporary restraining order to keep the police from moving or arresting anyone. Kinsley filed a lawsuit against the City of Cincinnati charging that the city has a pattern of violating the rights of homeless people. The suit also addresses the anti-panhandling regulations as unconstitutional. A federal judge ruled against the city and is allowing the case to be heard. The sweeps will be postponed at least 20 days. The panhandling complaint will be heard separately.
The ACLU of Ohio also recently announced plans to work with Kinsley to file a class-action suit against the City of Cincinnati over the current panhandling ordinance.
Bob Decaire, the coordinator of TLC Ministries, has been charged with trespassing after a warning, a first-degree misdemeanor. Decaire was cited after rain and lightening forced his weekly feeding program for homeless people into a parking garage. The police chose not to arrest all 75 homeless people and volunteers for trespassing. The parking garage is only for people conducting city business. Police were concerned about garbage being left behind, and upholding the rule that charity groups have designated areas in the city to feed the homeless. The feeding program usually occurs on a patch of land near the police department. Decaire claims a police officer told him he could use the garage during rain several weeks before the incident.
The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless signed a consent decree with the City of Cleveland to settle a lawsuit, which prevents police from arresting or threatening arrest to any homeless person for the purely innocent behavior of sitting, sleeping, standing, or eating on the sidewalk. Reports from homeless people on the East Side of Cleveland state that officers are upholding the decree, but police on the West Side continue to harass homeless individuals. The larger problem of private security guards, who have no legal authority, forcing homeless individuals to "move on" still exists. Many of these security guards are off-duty police officers and wear their police uniforms while they work as security guards.
Colorado Springs, CO
The City Council wants to amend an existing ordinance to make tougher laws targeted at aggressive panhandlers. For example, panhandling 20 feet. from an ATM is prohibited as well as after dark and while someone is entering or exiting a car. The City Council is addressing this matter because of complaints from business owners and residents. A media campaign to encourage people to donate to service providers is also underway.
The Columbus Coalition for the Homeless reports that homeless persons who loiter are repeatedly treated unfairly and arrested. Many are arrested for possessing an open container, particularly when the person is known as a alcoholic and does not willingly enter treatment. Over the past few years the city has closed down several homeless camps when they posed a "serious health/safety threat." In most cases city officials will contact the Community Shelter Board prior to the sweep and allow time between notification and execution of the sweep. The efforts to develop a city protocol if a homeless camp is encountered, has not materialized despite the promise to create one.
The City Council approved several new laws that will negatively affect homeless individuals in November 2002. Any agency serving the homeless on public property will be required to obtain a $20 permit from the city. All agencies that attract a dozen or more people more than once in a 90-day period will have to get a permit or face fines up to $1000. The initial ordinance was supposed to include private property as well, but local advocates reached a compromise with the city. Laws against loitering and sleeping in public were also tightened. It is now illegal to sleep anywhere on pubic property including a car parked on a public street or in a garage. The harshest new law requires all people who receive any type of services, including meals, to apply for an eligibility card. This process will be handled by the police and requires everyone to fill out a form, submit to a background check, and have their picture taken. The cards will list a personís citizen status, as well as declaring whether they are a drug or sex offender. Anyone without an eligibility card will be denied services from the local homeless shelter as well as private groups that feed on public property. Policemen issued trespassing warnings to homeless people inhabiting a privately owned empty lot. If they do not leave the police will physically remove them or arrest them if necessary. While the homeless people are upset and have claimed a common law right to the area, they did find the police to be "very friendly." The lot will be cleared of all brush and trash after the people leave.
Homeless "camps" along the riverbed were swept away with backhoes and dump trucks under the orders of Mayor Callery, city officials, and the police. The camps were considered to be a health hazard and unsafe because of fire risks from campfires and human feces found in clothing and bedding. The homeless people who inhabited this area were outraged because their personal belongings such as photos, bibles, and clothing, were removed and in some cases destroyed without warning. Lawsuits have been filed against the city and there have been demonstrations, with the aid of the National Coalition for the Homeless, outside the City Hall by homeless rights advocates as well as homeless people. Mayor Callery has also been criticized for vetoing plans to construct the Life Learning Center, a "multi-faceted facility to help homeless people change their lives." The mayor did not approve of its location in the downtown business area because he believes it will diminish property values and attract homeless people from all over the area. There are approximately 3,000 homeless people in the city and only 50 shelter beds. The homeless people who inhabited the riverbed thought of the area as their home. They were outraged that the city could take their belongings simply because they lived outside.
The police continue to conduct sweeps of homeless camps on a regular basis. These sweeps often force people to leave their belongings, which are sometimes later destroyed with bulldozers. Selective enforcement of laws and an obvious reduction of pubic space is occurring all over the city. Two church groups, that were feeding homeless people, were harassed and threatened with arrest if they did not leave a public square. Organizers from the National Coalition for the Homeless recently traveled to Dallas to facilitate meetings between city officials, homeless rights activists, and the homeless.
The City Council banned panhandling within 25 feet of banks, ATMs, self-service gas pumps, car washes, pay phones, and public transportation stops. Violating the ordinance can result in fines up to $500.
The police are clearing out homeless camps after the murder of a homeless woman, Paula Sue Heiser. The police want to work with homeless rights advocates and social workers to make sure they clear the camps with "compassion and dignity" and encourage the homeless people to get the help they need. There are roughly 15 such camps in the county.
The downtown area is in the process of being revitalized thus displacing many people experiencing homelessness. Government-subsidized housing is either being removed or replaced. A law passed a few years ago requires that those wishing to panhandle register with the city. Daily meal services and social service agencies are being re-located.
The increasing homeless population is troubling business owners and residents. Meetings have been planned between business owners, residents, and service providers to discuss the best plan of action for the homeless population.
An advertising company began handing out laminated signs to homeless panhandlers. The signs had messages like "At least Iím not Spamming your E-mail" and "Hell, It beats a Cubicle." The signs also included a plug for their company. The panhandlers were not paid for holding the signs. John Parvensky, President of the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, said "Weíre trying to create lasting solutions to homelessness, and certainly panhandling, and promoting that, are not going to get up there."
Des Moines, IA
Des Moines is taking an "out of sight, out of mind" approach to their homeless situation, the causes of poverty, and their lack of affordable housing. Police are cracking down on clearing out homeless campsites. Apparently most of the belongings confiscated in the sweeps have been thrown away or dumped in the river near the campsites. There is a shortage of shelter beds for the number of homeless people in the city, and affordable housing and transitional housing options are non-existent. It is hard for people to get into housing because many of them have criminal records from arbitrary arrests. Shelter space and housing is especially needed in this area because the winter weather is so brutal.
There is a large homeless population that congregates around Wayne State University. Public Safety officers blame the students who are so generous toward the panhandling on campus. Since it is a public university and it is not a crime to panhandle, they are allowed to be there.
El Cajon, CA
The city has not built a shelter for two years, but has tried to shut down a homeless camp at St. Albans Episcopal Church. Attorney Scott Dreher filed a lawsuit on behalf of the church. The lawsuit alleges that the city has violated the churchís civil rights, the U.S. Constitution and a federal law protecting religious land use decisions by trying to shut down the growing homeless camp at the church. City Attorney James Lough claims the city is not obligated to build or support a shelter, and that they have set aside sites for a shelter, which is the extent of their responsibilities. Dreher has also warned other cities in the area of lawsuits if they do not build shelters. The City Council is planning to get a court injunction against the church and the campers for municipal code violations. Rev. John Conrad refuses to move the homeless campers from his church until the city builds adequate shelters. He is going to install a portable toilet and a shower at the camp so they do not violate any heath codes. In response to the lawsuit Mayor Mark Lewis presented a plan for a shelter and asked the church to donate some money into a trust fund.
It is illegal to camp anywhere within city limits. Homeless people have been protesting in downtown in order to make the city address the problem.
City Council member, Matthew Straight filed a petition with the City Council to examine ways to deter loitering along Main Street. Straight said the petition is a result of complaints from business owners. The city has allocated $30,000 for a new interfaith hospitality network that will provide services to homeless families.
Fort Lauderdale, FL
Homeless advocate Arnold Abbott sued the city when he was told to stop feeding the homeless on the beach. He was asked to move his feeding site to a stadium, which is eight miles from downtown where people experiencing homelessness gather. He won the case, arguing religious freedom, saying Judaism motivated him. His Wednesday night dinners, on the beach, that he has been holding since 1991, will continue.
Homeless man Donald Trombley was surprised to find an eviction notice in an area of the woods where he lives. Frederick Brick Works Inc. has ordered the homeless that live in a wooded private lot to leave or they will be removed by force. Some of the residents have been living there for 10 years. The company stated that they are planning to do work in the area and do not want to risk anyone getting injured.
The perception of homeless people as disruptive and associated with crime are the reasons why the city wants them out of the downtown area, Police Chief Jerry Dyer admitted. "For the most part those people are harmless. But it is the perception that hurts downtown," said Dyer. Despite admitting that the problem is mainly one of misperception, the city continues to force homeless people to move. Pressure is being placed on the shelter downtown, and police are confiscating shopping carts belonging to homeless individuals when they are left unattended. The problem is that no one is, "worried about the perception that Fresno has a heartless attitude" toward his or her homeless population.
Fresno owns an All ≠ American designation in part for how it cares for its "downtrodden."
Panhandlers could now be fined up to $1,000 or be sent to jail for 6 months if they ask for money in places prohibited by a new ordinance or use aggressive tactics. Many argue this new law is unconstitutional, since it specifically targets the homeless.
A group of University of Florida students were told that they can no longer operate a feeding program outside of City Hall. Gainesville Police threatened the group with arrest and told them that they could no longer serve meals. Assistant City Manager, Carl Harness, initiated the change when he informed officers to stop anyone from giving out handouts in the City Hall Plaza. The plaza is public property but city officials say they have the right to regulate public areas, if they feel this regulation is necessary.
There is great debate over the location of a "safe space" offering services to the homeless since residents in both the eastern and western parts of the city do not want it interfering with their businesses and parks. The debate is causing the delay in the building of a shelter, which could mean that it will not be ready next winter.
A law to ban sleeping in cars on public streets between the hours of 10p.m. to 6a.m. was passed by the City Council. Sleeping in a car is now a misdemeanor punishable by up to 6 months in jail. City leaders said that a growing number of people were using public roadways as campground sites and the law was needed to curb the problem.
A city ordinance bans all forms of aggressive panhandling. The ordinance defines aggressive as: action that would make a reasonable person fearful, touching a person or his/her property without consent, blocking a personís path, using violent or threatening gestures, following a person, and using profane, offensive or abusive language. The ordinance also bans panhandling from within 15 feet of any banking institution including ATMs. Panhandling in parking lots after dark is prohibited as well as panhandling on public transportation. Violating this ordinance once could result in a fine up to $100, a second offense will result in a fine up to $250. A third violation is classified as a misdemeanor which could result in a $500 fine and six months in jail.
The City Council voted unanimously to place harsh restrictions on panhandling. A permit is now required to panhandle. The permits are free but a person must present photo identification and reapply every three months. A fine of $50 will be issued to anyone panhandling without a license. The council also put restrictions on where people could panhandle. The ordinance will prohibit people from panhandling at bus stops and on any public transportation. It is now a misdemeanor to approach a person within three feet to solicit, follow a person after they have said no, soliciting in groups of two or more, and to use deception to solicit.
A neighborhood policing team has made it a "priority" to displace homeless camps. They have adopted a zero tolerance policy that they enforce with daily sweeps. They have stopped many individuals and made several arrests. Police Chief James Scarberry went over the City Commissionersí authority and stated that his officers would begin to enforce a state law that prohibits soliciting in roadways. This ban will affect everyone from firefighters to homeless individuals selling the local homeless newspaper. Advocates feel that this ban specifically targets the homeless population. The City Commissioners have defeated two previous police driven attempts to ban roadway solicitation.
The downtown business district and Hawaii Pacific University asked the city to clean up their area. The city responded by removing public benches and replacing them with new benches that have bars in the middle that will prevent homeless people from sleeping on them.
Residents are concerned about litter left by homeless people living out of their cars. City officials remind them "itís not illegal to be homeless." The only things they can do is cite people for sleeping in their cars or littering, and ask the homeless people to move and encourage residents to pick up litter in their area.
The City Council voted to ban "dumpster diving," aggressive panhandling, and sleeping on downtown streets between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. Police officers will not arrest anyone committing these acts, but will rather refer them to social service agencies that can help them. The major problem with the anti-dumpster diving rule is many homeless people make a living collecting cans from dumpsters and survive on food found there as well. The City Council has defined aggressive panhandling as "asking for money within eight feet of ATMs, pay phones, parking meters, gas pumps, or people who object."
There are serious concerns regarding homeless camps in the town and their effect on local businesses and tourism. Police will begin "aggressive patrols" and "force them to remove belongings." Police intend to arrest homeless people who "act up" and will take intoxicated people into protective custody. Some of the campsí residents have been banned from the local shelters that have a policy against admitting intoxicated people. Homeless advocates said that they had a plan to have social workers help to clean up the camps while encouraging the residents to get treatment. The cityís plan will occur before they have a chance to act.
A little used town ordinance dating back to 1971 will now be strictly enforced. The ordinance bans year-round camping including camping in small trailers and RVs. Many low-income residents have been living in small trailers for years because it is the only place in town that they can afford; the monthly rent at the campground is between $400-$500, which is half the price of an apartment. Residents will only be allowed to stay at the campgrounds for 15 consecutive days. Many people say they have no way of moving their trailers or anyplace to go if they are forced to leave their homes. It is unclear how the law will be carried out.
Jacksonville Beach, FL
A Community Response Team (CRT), a special police unit, performs regular sweeps of the beachfront, boardwalk, plazas, and several of the cityís wooded areas. Since the creation of the eight-member team in 1999, 1,000 arrests of "transients" have been made. Homeless individuals are given one warning and a ticket before they are arrested. Every time an officer encounters a homeless person they fill out a contact card with the personís personal information on it. This information is entered into the police database, which keeps track of how many warnings a person has received and if they should be arrested or ticketed. The officer calls the station to check on a personís status. "It used to be like shooting fish in a barrel, now itís harder to find them because they know we are out there," said a CRT officer.
City officials are considering putting up video cameras on light poles as a way of discouraging the homeless population from being present on downtown streets. Laws have been passed against sleeping in public (including in cars), aggressive panhandling, and drinking in public. Police state that wherever there is legal justification for an arrest one will be made. One homeless man was cited for sleeping in public while he sat on a beach. The man had a toothbrush in his back pocket and other personal items in his bag, but was not asleep at the time of the citation. He was cited at 9:30 a.m. The anti-sleeping law only applies between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. Councilman Fland Sharp said, "They [homeless people] are fat and happy. They just want to lay around and drink all day. I have no sympathy for them whatsoever."
Police officers entered the woods in order to collect cans for a Boy Scout fundraiser, but they ended up finding several homeless individualís belongings. They confiscated all the items, which included a brand new tent, boots, clothing and other personal property. Police said that people could pick up their belongings at the police station.
Three homeless people and the Emergency Services and Homeless Coalition of Jacksonville Inc. filed a suit in the U.S. District Court challenging a 1999 law that prohibits sleeping, lodging, or camping in public places. The suit calls for a permanent injunction against the ordinance and compensatory damages for property that police officers have confiscated or destroyed.
Key West, FL
There is no city run shelter in Key West and city officials made a proposal that would have paid transportation costs for homeless individuals to travel the 150 miles to Miami-Dade. They also offered money to shelters and homeless outreach centers in the Miami-Dade area to take these individuals in. Officials in Miami-Dade said they were insulted by the offer and could never handle a large influx of people into their shelter system. The protests from Miami-Dade stopped the proposal from occurring.
A City Commissioner requested a video to be taken of homeless people both during the day and the early morning hours. City workers will film groups of homeless people during the day and then again around 4 a.m. to document the problem of homelessness. The video project is specifically targeted at the individuals that the city considers "chronic public nuisances."
An ordinance that bans all forms of panhandling from three major tourist spots passed the City Council. Aggressive panhandling is already illegal, but this new law covers all forms of panhandling, even people who simply hold up a sign. Technically this law will cover Salvation Army volunteers around Christmas and Girl Scouts, but homeless advocates doubt if the law will be enforced for anyone but the homeless. The penalty is a fine up to $500 and jail time. The City Council is looking to expand this ordinance to other areas of the city.
A small stretch of public beach was closed to prevent homeless people from camping there. Public restrooms and showers near the beach were also closed.
The city closed homeless camps in the wetlands, stating that they pose an environmental and health risk. If people remain in the mangrove fields they could be charged with a third degree felony. The penalty is a $500 fine and 60 days in jail. The city promised advocates and homeless men and women that enforcement of this law would be delayed until a shelter with a minimum of 25 beds could be built. City officials called a meeting of residents to discuss the location of the new homeless shelter. Approximately 200 people came to the meeting, mainly to protest any shelter being built in their neighborhood. The Mayor, Jimmy Weekly, proposed building a shelter under the jail. While the city struggles to find a location for the shelter, the police began enforcing the anti-sleeping ordinance in late July.
The mayor and the assistant city manager had stated that there would be a moratorium on homeless harassment until a permanent shelter had been built or and temporary safe camping ground with showers and toilets had been created. Despite this statement the city cleared an empty private lot where several homeless men were sleeping. The men did not have an opportunity to clear out their belongings before the city cleared the land with a bulldozer. The men lost family pictures, a wedding ring, and identification cards. The city gave two of the men bus tickets to Springfield Massachusetts and Napa California and $500 in cash.
The county and state officials forced that last residents of "Houseboat Row" to move to city owned marinas. They were forced to move because the boats did not have sewer hookups. Houseboat row began in the 1950ís as summer homes for high society, but in the 1970ís it "deteriorated." The city voted to keep the houseboats but the city owns the water under the sea wall and therefore had the authority to move the boats.
City Commissioners passed an ordinance banning aggressive panhandling. The ban restricts panhandling from within 20 feet of a public restroom, while under the influence, at bus or train stations or within six feet of an entrance to a building without the permission of the owner. It also bans using aggressive tactics. Penalties include fines up to $500 and 60 days in jail.
Las Vegas, NV
In most cities the police violate the rights of the homeless by unfairly targeting them for unequal treatment. Police officials claim they are merely seeking to ensure that everyone obeys the law. Those who are caught, they say, are just the ones who refuse to play by the rules. In Las Vegas, the Mayor and the Metropolitan Police Department are more brazen. In typically shameless fashion, they proudly announced that theyíd conducted dozens of downtown "sweeps" in which jaywalking, pedestrian obstruction, and other quality-of-life ordinances were used as an excuse to stop people and "clean up" the area. If violators were "tourists" or "businessmen," they were given a friendly warning. But if they were among the more than 1,000 "undesirables" who were snagged, the Mayor and officers bragged, they were cited and often carted off to jail to languish for days and even weeks while awaiting court appearances and trials. Jail is no picnic anywhere, but in Las Vegas it is more abhorrent than it is in many places. According to a 1997 report by the United States Justice Department, conditions in the Clark County Detention Center (CCDC) were so bad that they systematically violated inmatesí rights. The report surprised few who were familiar with the jail. Overcrowding, inadequate medical care, and nearly non-existent mental health care have long made CCDC particularly dangerous and inhumane. Unfortunately, it has also long been the stateís largest public "mental health facility," the place where the homeless who are mentally ill are routinely warehoused when they are repeatedly arrested for minor infractions. While incarcerated, they are often left to wander in general population, where they are especially vulnerable and receive no treatment to speak of.
Mayor Oscar Goodman had harsh remarks regarding homeless people during his State of the City Address in January 2002. "They're robbing people, raping people, and killing their own." Goodman admitted that it would be improper to paint any group with a "broad brush" and claimed that his remarks were targeted at a specific section of the homeless population.
A homeless encampment of approximately 175 people (about 30 of whom had been evicted from a smaller encampment earlier in the month) was ordered to disband in late March 2002. The majority of the people left in the middle of the night just before police arrived to force them to move. The mayor and city officials cited concern over public health as the primary reason for closing the camp. The clean up cost $11,000, an amount that could have paid for three weeks of shelter space at the Salvation Army shelter that was previously forced to close for lack of funds. Later that morning, a second camp of 100 people arose on a vacant lot overlooking Las Vegas Boulevard. The police forced them to leave this camp too, and Mayor Goodman arrived to personally oversee the operation. The homeless scattered in all directions, with no destination. A flier that informed people that shelter beds were available had been handed out, and most shelters stated that they could provide two to five beds. But homeless advocates learned that some beds already in use by others were cleared the previous night in order to prepare for the police sweep. In any event, those beds filled up quickly, and homeless men and couples reported being turned away from the shelters. The American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada said that the city's claim that enough shelter beds were available was a lie.
A small new camp of about 30 people formed in a nearby location. Advocates obtained donations of garbage bags and other cleaning supplies from the MGM MIRAGE and a Franciscan Friar, Brother David Buer, raised funds to rent a porta-potty in order to maintain a clean camp. Homeless men and women were also sweeping and raking the camp. However, the city forced Brother Buer to remove the porta-potty, stating that it blocked pedestrians. The porta-potty was located against a fence near which there was virtually no pedestrian traffic. Shortly after removing the porta-potty the city closed the camp citing a public health concern, especially due to human waste. Previously, advocates who came by to visit the homeless were questioned by police.
Gary Norris, a homeless man, was cited for soliciting businesses or contributions from people in passing cars. The sign read, "The Lord is my Shepard." Norris says that he was not soliciting at the time of the citation and plead innocent during his arraignment. He planned to fight the citation until it was dismissed.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal conducted an unscientific online poll that asked, "How should the city handle the homeless problem?" The choices and percentages were as follows: "Find or build more shelter space" 28.9%; "Break up encampments as soon as they form" 20.1%; "Designate a 'tent city' district out of public view" 14.4%; "Give them bus tickets out of town" 36.5%.
A Metro police officer kicked Michael Steele, a homeless man, while he slept on a sidewalk. The officer then pulled a gun on Mr. Steele until he showed his hands from under his blanket. Steele was also issued a trespassing citation. Over the last year, basic services to the homeless continued to decrease. In October 2002, the MASH transitional housing facility closed. In April 2003, Catholic Charities closed a 200-bed emergency shelter for men. In June 2003, the highly-regarded Crisis Intervention Center at the MASH site was closed for lack of funding. The MASH winter tent for homeless men, which had contained 250 beds, was permanently removed in 2002, after four winters of use.
Los Angeles, CA
The legal battle over downtown LA is in full force. A 50-block radius, known for years as Skid Row, is coming to the attention of the city. A downtown revitalization project that is attracting high priced loft apartments and art galleries has caused the city and the police force to turn their attention to the homeless population. A Business Improvement District (BID) was formed and hired private security firms to help patrol.
A small homeless camp was closed in August. The camp was located near a golf course east of Los Angeles. The city cited several fires and trash problems as the reason for the closure.
In response to a group of downtown civic leaders, business owners, and residents who complained to the city and police department that the homeless population on "skid row" had become a health problem and a safety catastrophe the police began "Operation Enough." One of the main requests was to enact an anti-encampment ordinance. Less than 48 hours later the LAPD working with the California Department of Corrections, California Youth Authority, FBI, U.S. Marshals Service, and other state law enforcement groups began "Operation Enough." More than 250 officers moved through skid row in raids that began before dawn on a Wednesday and continued Thursday evening and Friday morning. Police arrested 108 people on Wednesday and 84 on Thursday and Friday; the names of those arrested were withheld. The police insisted that they were not targeting the homeless, only those people that were violating parole and in possession of weapons or drugs. About 60% of those arrested were for parole violations.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a suit with the National Lawyers Guild against the city of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Police Department, Chief William Bratton and one of his top officers, Capt. Charlie Beck. The lawsuit asked that the court put an end to the recent sweeps of "skid row" and pay the plaintiffís court cases. A federal judge issued a temporary restraining order prohibiting the police from conducting sweeps in search of parole violators. Recently the city has agreed to pay nearly $170,000 to dozens of homeless people who were caught in the sweeps.
A meeting was held between business owners and the LAPD in Westwood to discuss how to best address the homeless population that business owners claim is harming their businesses. The police stated that they would identify the specific laws that the homeless are breaking and begin to strictly enforce them. Police officers suggested that people call a non-emergency line or 911 if they found someone breaking the law. The owners were also told that they could perform a citizenís arrest if they found a homeless person breaking the law. The community was encouraged to take action against those individuals breaking the law. People were also given "A Trespass Arrest Authorization" form, which may force homeless people to leave a business for at least 24 hours.
A Municipal Code 41.18, was passed that prohibits "anyone from sitting, lying or sleeping on any public sidewalk, street or alley at all times anywhere." The code is rarely enforced outside of downtown LA. The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a federal lawsuit seeking to stop police from citing people in violation of 41.18.
A new law makes it illegal for anyone to camp on city streets, in the local parks or wooded areas. This law will apply to individuals who are forced to live in their cars. A conviction could result in fines up to $1,000 or 90 days in jail or both.
After two fires, one major and one minor, occurred under the Notre Dame Bridge, the city is considering erecting a barrier to prevent people from camping beneath the bridge. The first fire was attributed to vandals and a homeless man who had fallen asleep while smoking caused the smaller fire.
No new laws have been passed recently that target the homeless population but the police have begun to arrest more people and forcibly move them from downtown and along the river. The police now have two horse patrolmen and make use of them and officers with unleashed dogs to patrol looking for homeless camps. The City has also begun cutting trees and brush clearing out green spaces throughout the city, and closing homeless camps in the process. The police have also refused all attempts made by advocates to conduct trainings with their officers and local homeless advocates on the homeless population and their needs.
The Manchester police department has begun taking pictures of homeless individuals sitting in the parks. The police and mayorís office stated that the pictures were taken to determine who sits in the park just in case there is future damage in the park. Police officers are also asking for IDs from individuals who sitting in the park who simply appear homeless. If citations are issued people face fines up to $100.
The City Council voted unanimously in January 2003 to ban all forms of camping on public property. The ordinance is a misdemeanor that is punishable with up to one year in jail and a fine of $750.
Marysville does not have a homeless shelter, the closest shelter is in Everett. As a result a small number of homeless individuals have made camp under the freeway. Mayor David Weiser said that the homeless are a traffic hazard and must be moved. The residents of the small camp were forced out of the camp. City workers were instructed to continue to visit the camp until no homeless people remained.
Jackson County is beginning discussions about creating a free campsite for the homeless that would be on county land. People would be able to camp at the site legally and for an extended period of time. Current policy requires the city to close all illegal campsites. A notice is posted 24 hours in advance of the closure. All the residents must take their belongings and leave the site permanently.
Every year before the Church of God in Christ conference in downtown Memphis, the city hires police from the neighboring suburbs to assist the Memphis Police Department to sweep the entire downtown area, conducting warrant searches and forcing homeless people to leave the area. They are told that "they can go north, south, or east, but they cannot stay downtown." In addition, police use the obstruction of public way ordinance to arrest homeless people standing on the sidewalk, who will not "move along" when asked.
Miami Beach, FL
In a move to improve "overall quality of life," City Commissioners voted six to one in favor of a law that would prohibit people from living in public spaces. The ACLU called this law a "thinly veiled attack on the homeless." Police officers must offer violators a chance to stay in a homeless shelter and those that refuse may be arrested or fined. If beds are not available, officers are not permitted to arrest offenders or order them to leave. The majority of shelter beds are in Miami, and many homeless do not want to travel over the bay to Miami and often refuse shelter.
In a Miami Herald readers poll 19.4% thought that "Cities shouldnít harass their less fortunate citizens. Leave them alone." 32.7% of people thought that "The homeless are a public nuisance. Most of them donít want help. They need to be driven off the street." 48.0% said, "Arrests donít work. We need more social programs to help the homeless."
In an unprecedented action a church was declared a public nuisance. St. James Episcopal Church allows the homeless to sit outside of the church and sleep in the yard at night. The church also holds a breakfast inside every morning that feeds around 200 people a day. The declaration of public nuisance means that the church will be fined every time the police are called to the church because of nuisance activity there. The police were called to the church ten times between May and August. The church is between a middle class apartment building that caters to students and a Marquette University residence hall.
Reports of police harassment and brutality are common among the homeless population in Minneapolis. Homeless men and women report that their property is routinely confiscated and that the police often physically harass them during sweeps.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation and the cityís Department of Public Works began installing "transient barriers" under bridges and elevated freeways where homeless people sleep. The barriers are made of rebar and bolted into the concrete. They are placed just below the road surface at either end of a bridge. The DOT estimates they have spent $12,000 installing the barriers, the city does not have a cost estimate. This past April Minneapolis shelters lost the funding for 100 beds. Over 1,000 people are turned away from shelters every night due to lack of space.
Homeless advocates report that during last yearís tri-centennial birthday celebration the police pressured the homeless by forcing them to leave and arresting them with old laws. Two people were arrested for "wandering abroad" a law the dates to the civil rights era and prohibits a personís unauthorized presence in or on any piece of private property. It is unclear how it pertains to public spaces. The city and police denied that the arrests or pressure on the homeless to leave downtown has nothing to do with the expensive public celebration.
Montgomery Co, TX
A commissionerís court approved $1,100 to put combination locks on the restrooms in county buildings to prevent the homeless from using the facilities. All county employees will be given the combination as well as others that are using the buildings and need the restrooms. A county Judge, Alan B. Sadler, said the number would be given to anyone unless "they walk in with a suitcase."
The event "Fan-Fair" which is a country music appreciation day where the country stars come to town for autograph signings and concerts sparked over 300 arrests of homeless people. In five days, 340 people were arrested and lodged in jail on loitering and trespassing charges. After the event was over they were taken to court. If they pled guilty they were given time-served and released, if they pled not-guilty the charges were dropped as to not "clog up the courts."
New Orleans, LA
The historic French Quarter is being "cleaned up" by the City Council and the police force. City Councilwoman, Jacquelyn Brechtel Clarkson, and Police Captain, Louis Dabdoub III are leading the charge to rid the French Quarter of people they consider public nuisances. This group includes homeless people, street performers, young children that tap dance, and tarot card readers. Clarksonís first step was to remove the benches in Jackson Square across from the St. Louis Cathedral. Clarkson did not want to return the benches but eventually will replace them with four new bars installed to prevent people from lying on the benches. The space for a person to sit will be 24 7/8 inches wide. The total cost of refurbishing was $36,000.
From June through July 2002, when Dabdoub took command of the police in the 8th district, which covers the French Quarter and the majority of the downtown area, there were 3,200 arrests. This is four times the number of arrests made during the same period the previous year. People are arrested most often for public intoxication, loitering, aggressive panhandling, and an old law, declared unconstitutional in 1986, which prohibited unauthorized public habitation. Homeless people are reporting being falsely arrested and incarcerated for weeks at a time on minor charges -- such as obstructing a public place, and very rarely is any evidence of the charge presented in court. Dabdoub also has suggested the creation of a "tent city" that would eventually become a permanent shelter. The criminal sheriff would run the camp initially. There are no known tent cities that are controlled by the police in the United States.
New York City, NY
Mayor Bloomberg and New York City Police (NYPD) Commissioner Raymond Kelly made the removal of homeless New Yorkers out of public spaces and public view through arrest and harassment one of their first priorities upon taking office in January 2002. Mayor Bloomberg had campaigned on being tough on crime and cleverly joined his tough anti-crime stance with a vow to not allow New York Cityís Quality of Life to deteriorate even though "many so called Quality of Life crimes are not crimes at all, they are simply violations of Rules and Regulations," states John Jones, leader of Picture the Homeless. These violations, when enforced against homeless New Yorkers often result in arrest or turn into warrants for homeless people unable to pay fines which then may lead to having a criminal record.
Shaken by the fears produced by 9/11 and the economic crisis, some New Yorkers welcomed his vow to be tough on crime and maintain the current Quality of Life. A poll conducted by The Citizens Crime Commission showed that New Yorkers strongly support the enforcement of these laws. Many other New Yorkers however, including homeless and poor New Yorkers, knew that Bloombergís promise to "not let squeegee men take over our streets" was code for making sure that homeless people were made invisible.
Mayor Bloomberg continued a public fight from the Guiliani Administration against the fifth Ave. Presbyterian Church. The Church had allowed homeless people to sleep in the entrance way to the church, including the church steps and adjacent sidewalks. Federal Judge Lawrence McKenna struck a compromise between the Church and the Administration by ruling that the prohibition against camping on sidewalks does not apply to entrance ways of church buildings. The church had sought sanctuary designation for a five foot wide section of the 16 foot sidewalk that the church owns. The Judge declared this space public and not allowable for use by homeless men and women for sleeping. Homeless people and church officials report that police officers continue to force people sleeping on the Church steps to move.
In January 2002 Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly held a press conference where they identified the "Seven City Sins" that would not be tolerated under the broader Quality of Life policing and media campaign: prostitution, illegal street vendors, public urination, drinking or smoking in public, drug dealing, aggressive panhandling, and homelessness. A local paper, The Daily News, titled this effort A New War on Public Pests. Of the Seven City Sins listed, only homelessness is not against the law, but as a result of this public campaign, homelessness became further criminalized in the eyes of many New Yorkers.
The Mayor created a toll free hotline for NYC residents to call and report "quality of life" crimes under the name Operation Clean Sweep. Operation Spotlight was developed to target repeat offenders of "quality of life" crimes in order to give harsher jail time to people who have three or more arrests in one year and at least one conviction.
In targeted areas, such as Greenwich Village, a series of community forums held by community boards and the police promoted this "get tough approach" targeting homeless people. FIERCE, a grass roots organization of LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) youth, many of whom are homeless, held several protests, disrupted community meetings and educated their community about their rights through outreach, video and teach-ins.
Picture the Homeless, an organization founded and led by homeless New Yorkers began a legal clinic for homeless people in conjunction with NYC Police Watch in the Spring of 2002. After hearing hundreds of reports of tickets for Quality of Life offenses as well as the more generic disorderly conduct charge, Picture the Homeless began conducting surveys of homeless people regarding their interactions with the NYPD. Over 500 homeless people were interviewed and the findings documented that 81% of homeless people were given tickets or arrested for doing the same things as other people who didnít appear to be homeless (such as lying down in a park), 46% of homeless people lost their property either by their belongings being thrown away by the police or being unable to claim their belongs for lack of a voucher or identification and 63% reported being stopped and frisked for no reason. Many interviewed stated that they felt they were targeted because they were Black or Latino as well as being homeless.
In October of 2002, the NYPD began a highly publicized crackdown on homeless people in public spaces, widely reported in the press shortly after business leaders made complaints about an increase in homeless people in commercial and tourist areas. Homeless New Yorkers also reported increased harassment in public spaces such as parks, mass transit facilities and on the streets from the NYPD as well as private security guards working for BIDs or private buildings. Tickets for taking up more than one space on a subway or bench on a subway platform, trespassing, erecting structures on public sidewalks, misuse of parks property for sleeping on a park bench or having a bag on a park bench, public urination and disorderly conduct were common violations. NYPD Commissioner Kelly was quoted in the New York Times (10/13/02) saying, "The number of homeless people arrested for such offenses (public nuisance laws) this year has increased by more than 300%."
Picture the Homeless organized an action in early November in Penn Plaza in response to the increased harassment. Penn Plaza is open to the public but is not a city park. It is a large space with benches in front of an office building across from Penn Station in Midtown Manhattan. This action was in support of the right of homeless people to be in public spaces and was attended by about 30 homeless people who frequent the park. Major media outlets covered the event. The message was clear: "Just because a person is homeless does not mean he/she is excluded from the public," said Mike Slater, leader, Picture the Homeless.
During the action there was a heated confrontation with a private security guard from the building who insisted that people disperse. The guard attempted to physically remove a Columbia University law student from the park as she was interviewing one of the leaders of the action, and the NYPD were engaged to protect the rights of the homeless protesters. Two days after this protest, one of the leaders, a John Jones, was approached by the police and told to move. When he refused, he was told by the police officer that he didnít care "how much @#!&@$# press you bring here, you still canít stay in this park" (reported by Andrea Thomas, member Picture the Homeless) and arrested him for disorderly conduct.
The NYPD consolidated and substantially expanded the size of the Department Unit charged with interacting with the homeless and instructed members of that unit that their primary mission no longer was to offer services but instead was to arrest the homeless. In the first month of the homeless arrest initiative approximately 250 homeless people were arrested for minor offenses. Many of the arrested were held overnight in jail and lost personal property as a result. Even the Police Union denounced the new policy. "Itís lunacy and the poor cops are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Itís become organized harassment and itís wrong," stated Albert OíLeary, PBA spokesman. Another cop quoted in the New York Post on November 14, 2002, who refused to give his name stated that "Homelessness is not a crime ≠ but weíre treating it as a crime. Weíre treating them differently than any other citizenÖ(city officials) donít want to see them. They want us to harass them so much that they will be driven to the outer boroughs."
Eduardo de la Cruz was one police officer who refused to arrest a homeless man for sleeping in a parking garage and was suspended without pay for 30 days by the NYPD. The Latino Officers Association held benefits to help him financially, and $3000.00 in funds were collected by homeless men and women, other concerned New Yorkers and advocates in support of Officer De La Cruz. Formal charges were filed against Officer de la Cruz in March and he will be tried on whether his refusal to arrest the homeless man was lawful. He is in jeopardy of losing his job as a police officer. Two other officers were caught in a "homeless call sting" after they refused to respond to a quality of life call, and were punished Many police officers reported that they were threatened with disciplinary actions, including being transferred to less desirable precincts or shifts if they failed to arrest homeless people.
The New York Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and the NYPD on behalf of members of Picture the Homeless on November 25, 2002. The lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court, Southern District of New York and alleged that the NYPDís policies and practices of targeting and singling out the homeless for arrest violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.
As soon as the lawsuit was filed, the NYPD indicated that it wanted to settle the case. A groundbreaking settlement was approved on April 1, 2003. Michael Williams, member of Picture the Homeless was quoted in the New York Times as saying "The lawsuit is important to let people know that homeless people and our civil rights are not to be overlooked. We are showing that homeless people will stand up to defend our civil rights, and we are also standing up for the civil rights of all New Yorkers."
As a result of the lawsuit filed by the NYCLU on behalf of Picture the Homeless, for the first time the NYPD developed written policies against selective enforcement of the law specifically targeting homeless New Yorkers. The directive to the NYPD Homeless Outreach Unit and the NYPD Transit Bureau was provided to each officer within these units and read at ten consecutive roll calls. The directive was negotiated between members of the Civil Rights Committee of Picture the Homeless in consultation with attorney Christopher Dunn, NYCLU attorney and the City of New York. The settlement stipulates that "Violations are to be enforced evenhandedly against any person observed violating the law regardless of whether the person is homeless or not." A memorandum to the Transit Bureau commanders states "The importance of non selective enforcement cannot be overstated. Please ensure adherence and compliance at all times." Homeless Outreach Unit police are now receiving training in offering assistance instead of arresting homeless people
Harassment of homeless New Yorkers continues, by the NYPD, the Port Authority and Amtrak police, the police force within the Department of Homeless Services (DHS), and private security forces. An example of the ongoing types of profiling and harassment is what happened to Nathaniel Howard: "I was in the Port Authority Bus Terminal on the second floor of the south buildingÖJust outside that room there is a kiosk machine. I was standing in front of that kiosk along with a couple of other people. While I was waiting a turn, two Port Authority officers were passing by. The one that was closest to me brought his fist upÖgesturing to me. I didnít move. They took a few more steps, stopped and stood directly in front of me. The one that was making a thumbing sign said to me "take a walk." I asked the police, "Why should I take a walk? Iím not in a restricted area and Iím not breaking any regulations. He shot back asking if I was a lawyer. The officers did not approach any of the other people waiting in line and when I asked why I was singled out, they told me that ĎI looked like I was about to do something.í I was threatened with arrest if I refused to leave, handcuffed and taken to their station house inside the Port Authority. I stood chained to a wall for over an hour, given a summons and released. I returned to the line in front of the kiosk. When the officers approached me again they informed me that I could stay in line because I had Ďpaid for thatí. With those words I felt so violated. I appeared in court and my case was dismissed."
Homeless families inside the Emergency Assistance Unit (EAU) regularly complain about civil rights violations on the part of the DHS police and DHS staff. DHS police are peace officers and routinely issue tickets for disorderly conduct if clients complain about services or donít follow procedures. The staff relies on DHS police to maintain control and compliance from clients. Reports of physical assaults by DHS police are routine, as well as searches by male officers of homeless women without female DHS police present. Other civil rights violations in the EAU include free speech violations which prohibit homeless people from taking in or distributing materials about their rights or organizing meetings. Homeless children are prevented from attending their schools of origin, or often attending school at all, by the bureaucratic regulations. Information is generally only provided in English, although a significant number of clients do not speak or read English.
Another area of concern in New York is the excessive penalty for minor violations, including arrest and jail time, for persons without government-issued photo IDís with valid addresses. Homeless people by definition will not have these types of IDís and based of internal NYPD procedures, anyone without this type of ID can be detained until their identity is verified.
Picture the Homeless has implemented many solutions to counter the current anti-homeless environment. They have developed a "Know Your Rights" pamphlet that is distributed by homeless people, drafted a bill to expand acceptable forms of photo ID to include non government issued IDs, operate a legal clinic, file indecent reports documenting harassment by the police, organize people experiencing homeless to participate in direct actions, and develop public education campaigns.
A city ordinance prohibits "begging, soliciting, accosting and aggressive manner of all citizens and makes it a Class 2 misdemeanor." The public library attempted to keep the homeless population out of the library by adopting a behavior policy, but advocates has the policy dismissed; the library now has a full time security guard.
The City Council unanimously passed an ordinance banning sleeping and camping in city parks.
Homeless advocates and local business owners were successful in defeating an ordinance that would have banned camping in a car. They also received a grant of $13,000 to establish a hotline that the public can use in place of calling the police when a homeless person is causing a disturbance. An outreach worker will come to the scene to help the individual.
Homeless people can no longer sit or lie on sidewalks in Orlando. The City Council unanimously passed the ordinance that makes exceptions for medical emergencies, dining at sidewalk cafes, participating in protests, watching a parade, sitting on authorized benches, and waiting in line to enter a business or to buy tickets. The exceptions to the ordinance make it clear that the ordinance targets the homeless population. People violating the ordinance can be fined $50 and sentenced to 60 days in jail.
Private landowners are being forced to close homeless camps on their property. If the owners do not shut down the camps they will face fines of $1,000 a day, the original fine was $250 but is was raised shortly after the landowners were notified that they must close the camps. Twelve landowners were notified and as of August six had complied with the city ordinance.
Orlando Police have increased their enforcement of nuisance laws in the downtown district. Over a six month period from April to September police officers issued 235 trespass warnings, an increase of 62% from the previous six months. The warnings ranged from throwing a cigarette butt on the ground to public consumption of alcohol. The warnings carry a maximum one-year ban from the park where the violation occurred. If a person is found in the park where they are banned they can be jailed.
City code-enforcement officials informed Faye Edwards Hunter that she could not use her empty lot to distribute food out of the Second-Harvest truck. The property is zoned residential and officials say that the food program makes the property a de facto social-service facility, a code violation.
The largest meal program in Orlando moved from its 12-year location, a downtown park, to a city owned parking lot. The Ripple Effect operates the feeding program that serves 80 ≠ 140 homeless persons a week. The move was a compromise between the city, business owners, and homeless advocates.
The city is considering restricting the number of weekly meals that homeless advocates can provide in city parks. Permits would be required to serve food and groups would be restricted to four times a year.
Palm Beach County and West Palm Beach, FL
The County Commission passed a law banning all activity on county medians. The Sheriffís Department noted that solicitors on the medians posed a safety problem and residents complained of the harassment from panhandlers. The mayor of West Palm Beach, Joel Daves along with downtown business owners, wants the police to stop a group of college students from feeding homeless individuals at a downtown fountain. One of Davesí complaints is that the students do not have a special events permit. The leader of the group, Matt Doyle, requested a permit two months earlier and has heard nothing from the city concerning his request.
The police are aggressively patrolling areas that are frequented by homeless people. The number of homeless on the streets increases dramatically during the warmer summer months. If people are found living on the streets they are forced to move.
The Sonoma County sheriff deputies in a partnership with the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway, and the Transportation District are clearing homeless camps along the railroad tracks between Petaluma and Healdsburg. People living along the tracks have a month to move. The sweeps were prompted by complaints from local businesses of littering and theft.
A new law attempts to develop relationships between outreach workers, the homeless population and police officers. The current law, entitled the Sidewalk Behavior Law (SBL), requires officers to give a verbal and written warning before calling outreach workers to the site. If a person refuses to move or stop panhandling in a prohibited area they are issued a ticket, no one is arrested. Some City Council members want to make the law stricter so that aggressive panhandlers could be targeted and arrested.
City workers cleared several homeless camps in downtown and along the North Side. Outreach workers had been sent out earlier in the month to inform the residents of the camps that they would have to move. Outreach workers said they were frustrated because there were few shelter beds available for the people to go to.
After a church started a drop-in center for the homeless on Sunday afternoons, City Councilwoman Barbara Burns proposed a bill that would require churches, personal care homes, medical clinics, domestic violence shelters, and other facilities to receive approval of the city zoning officials before beginning new programs. The planning commission member, Clifford Levine narrowed the bill to only apply to drop-in centers. The bill also requires that "all aspects of the [homeless aid] activity take place within the confines of the church, school, or community center."
The ACLU reached a settlement with the city on the proper procedures for cleanup of homeless sites. The city is now mandated to provide a weekís notice at all homeless encampments that will be cleared as well as notifying social service agencies. Any personal items that are confiscated must be stored for up to a year so they can be reclaimed.
Placer County, CA
City officials are closing down homeless camps instead of providing a permanent shelter or affordable housing. When the first camp was closed the city used a bulldozer to pile the residentsí personal belongings into a dumpster. No one was allowed to remove their personal belongings because of health concerns and because residents had previous instructions to vacate. The major health concern stemmed from improper disposal of sewage. The city stated that they would continue to close homeless camps if health concerns arose.
Yun Hee Murphy was arrested for repeatedly sleeping on a picnic table in a city park. She had been kicked out of churches and homeless shelters. She has repeatedly asked the judge and her public defender to allow her to remain in jail because she has nowhere to go when she is released. Her initial bail was set at $1,500 but the judge lowered the bail to $1 and gave her the dollar so she could leave when she chooses.
Pompano Beach, FL
The City Council is in the process of rewriting an ordinance that would restrict street vendors from the cityís busiest intersections. Complaints of harassment and a rise in accidents involving vendors brought about the possible ordinance. The initial ordinance was denied after the city attorney instructed that the ordinance should be rewritten to focus on public safety.
Two Pontiac Police officers robbed a 41-year-old homeless man. The officers approached the man and he told them he was selling guitar strings. The officers took his strings after showing him their handcuffs and police identification. The homeless man was able to flag down a Detroit police officer who found the two men in a nearby restaurant. The officers have been suspended without pay pending an investigation.
There continue to be reports of police brutality against homeless people in Portland. Doc Waite, a homeless man, has reported that he has been harassed a number of times by the police. On one occasion his possessions were confiscated and his identification was destroyed. He was given a trespassing ticket illegally, and even assaulted by officers. Mr. Waite was represented by a public defender on his trespassing ticket and the Oregon Law Center represented him on the park exclusion ticket.
The Oregon Law Center has initiated litigation against the Oregon Department of Transportation, challenging its practice of giving local police forces the power to ban people permanently from ODOT property who are caught holding signs asking for money or work at off-ramps. Once banned, if they return to solicit anywhere on the ODOT highway system, individuals are arrested for criminal trespassing or interfering with a peace officer. Portland police officers also continue to issue citations for violating a state law banning solicitation on or near a highway, even though that law was declared to violate the Oregon constitution in 1996.
In late August of 2002, the Mayor of Portland, Vera Katz, wrote new rules that would allow the police to arrest people who are sitting, lying, or standing in groups anywhere on city sidewalks. The rules were a new interpretation of the Cityís existing "Sidewalk Obstruction" ordinance, which had never before been applied to people. Advocates objected that the rules were vague and would only be enforced against homeless and low-income people. In response to these objections, the rules were limited somewhat to apply only to the downtown business area and to sitting in a manner that actually obstructs the flow of pedestrian traffic. Earlier in the year, the Mayor had tabled a similar proposal put forward by the downtown business association and vowed to work with community leaders and homeless advocates to develop a fair plan. The new rules came as a surprise to many in the community.
Largely due to a handful of business and homeowner complaints, police insisted that St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church sign a formal nuisance abatement agreement that would govern conduct by the largely homeless and low-income visitors to St. Francis Park, a church-owned property. The park is immediately adjacent to Portlandís largest meal program and Portlandís only daytime drop-in center for homeless and low-income people. If an agreement could not be worked out the police would ask the city to file suit to seize the property under the cityís Chronic Nuisance Property Ordinance. Under the terms of the agreement, St. Francis was forced to close the park (not the meal program) for 180 days and work with a committee of local residents and police to set new park rules. The church also agreed to provide increased security services on site. The park reopened in June of 2003. The new rules, among other things, ban fixing bicycles in the park and having a shopping cart in the park. Violators are subject to being banned from coming within 200 feet of the park.
Homeless people are being woken up late at night and told to move on by Portland police officers. People are being rousted, and in some cases ticketed, no matter how inconspicuously they try to camp. Portland, like most cities does not have nearly enough shelter beds and has a long waiting list for shelters. The officers are using spotlights and loudspeakers to force the homeless to move away from bridges and empty lots. One officer was quoted as saying "The homeless are too lazy to work. They donít understand being homeless is their fault and are always blaming someone else. The reason there are so many homeless in Portland is because we have social services here. Other cities, like Seattle and Denver, donít have a homeless problem because they donít offer any social services." Crossroads, a local grassroots peopleís movement led by individuals experiencing homelessness, recently staged a sleeping-bag giveaway in front of City Hall to protest Portlandís anti-camping ordinance, and discussions are underway with City Council to find a more appropriate response to the needs of homeless campers.
A local Legal Aid attorney, Julie Stevens, successfully argued that Portlandís anti-camping ordinance was unconstitutional as applied to homeless people. A higher court would have to issue a ruling in order to set a precedent. The law is now in "legal limbo" and is still being enforced.
A city ordinance banning aggressive panhandling passed the City Council without a public hearing. The ordinance defines aggressive panhandling as following a person, speaking in a volume unreasonably loud under the circumstances, and behavior that causes a reasonable person to fear bodily harm.
William "Billy" McManus challenged his three illegal camping citations on the grounds of necessity. His lawyer argued that Mr. McManus was forced to break a law because no other alternative was provided. The city prosecuted almost 900 people for illegal camping in 2002. Most of the prosecutions came after the city began to crack down on homeless camps along the American River Parkway, a stretch of land along the river. Sacramento County owns the parkway but the city maintains anti-camping laws. There are an estimated 1,600 homeless people that are without shelter every night. The city and county do not provide enough shelter beds to accommodate everyone. In the case of Mr. McManus a jury acquitted him on his first charge and was deadlocked on the second two. The city appealed the case and won. McManus was sentenced to 30 days in the sheriffís work project and three years on informal probation. The judge stayed the sentence pending an appeal.
St. Francis of Assisi allows 25 homeless men and women to sleep on their steps from 6pm to 6am everyday. The church began to distribute 25 two-week passes for access to the steps in an attempt to limit the large crowds that neighbors were concerned about. Identification cards are checked each night. Permits are issued to the people that they serve. The church also runs the Steps Ministry program that sets guidelines for behaviors that include no drugs or alcohol on church property. The city is attempting to force the church to close their steps to the men and women they serve. The church states that the city is violating their first amendment rights by attempting to dictate how their land can be used.
County law enforcement agencies put together a mug-shot book of the cityís worst "habitual or common drunkards" and distributed it to local bars and liquor stores. There is a California state law dating back to 1872 that allows cities to fine liquor stores or bars, up to $1,000, for selling to anyone labeled a "habitual drunkard." A total of nine men and one woman made the list. After threats of lawsuits from civil rights groups, the city decided to take back the mug shot books and stop the threat of fines. The city plans to ask the courts to make sobriety a part of defendants probation and then distribute mug-shots of those people to local bars and liquor stores asking them to help enforce the personís probation.
Homeless men and women were denied an application to apply for the use of land for a tent city where homeless individuals could camp.
St. Petersburg, FL
The City Council banned aggressive panhandling in April. The ordinance bans all panhandling at night, at bus stops, on buses, within 15 feet of ATMs and at sidewalk cafes. The ban also includes several downtown streets, where tourists frequent. The ordinance passed unanimously.
County Commissioner Barbara Sheen Todd is suggesting creating a task force to address the homeless population. The task force would consider solutions as well as disciplinary measures to handle those who refuse help. They would also consider changing zoning rules to prevent soup kitchens from being close together and new vagrancy laws targeted at the "problem" homeless men and women off the streets. Sheriff Everett Rice suggests a "preferred arrest policy" that would target repeat offenders.
The staff of the City of St. Petersburg is asking the Florida Council on Homelessness to support state legislation that would raise multiple violations of municipal ordinances to the level of first and second-degree misdemeanors. The legislation would make five violations in twelve months in the same jurisdiction a second-degree misdemeanor; 19 violations would be a first-degree misdemeanor. This change would allow judges to impose jail time, probation, and larger fines.
San Francisco, CA
With San Francisco already being notorious for its systematic abuse and intolerance of homeless people, it is the overall sentiment of homeless advocates in the city that the situation is still worsening. Through increasing use of homeless sweeps, property theft, and anti-homeless police citations, the city of San Francisco has made a notably aggressive attempt over the past three years to decrease the visibility of homelessness in order to cater to the discreet tastes of rich tourists and the upper class.
Since the visibility of homeless people has been speculated to have a negative effect on tourism and business, homeless people are routinely displaced and told to "move on," as an attempt to make them less visible to those who spend money in the city. Large-scale homeless "sweeps" are frequently used as a tactic to accomplish this. In the past year, three large homeless encampments developed in unused parts of the city were destroyed. The encampments were allowed to grow for long periods of time, but they only became a problem once they became visible as a group of homeless people living together in a community. Although they were organized and kept clean by the inhabitants, the police department and the Department of Public Works dismantled these encampments. Working under alleged orders from the mayorís office, people living in the areas were forced to leave while being offered nothing more than symbolic services. Fences were then erected around two of the areas, as if fencing off areas of the city would solve the problem.
Aside from physically forcing a group of people out of a certain area of town, the city has also found it useful to sweep certain areas of the city by intensifying the levels of police and legal harassment. Laws are evoked and adapted to criminalize homeless people for doing what they need to do to survive. In 2000 and 2001 there were over 27,000 infraction citations given to homeless people for offenses such as urinating in public, sleeping or camping in the park, trespassing, disobeying park signs, and drinking in public. In addition, many of the infractions have been replaced with misdemeanors, which are much more difficult to oppose in court. The San Francisco Police Department arrested or cited over 1,800 homeless people charged with "illegal lodging" from Oct. 2001 to Oct. 2002. This was mostly a form of harassment and to put it more to the point the district attorney stated he feels "this is a good way to move homeless people around the city so other neighborhoods can share the pain of seeing homeless people in their neighborhoods". The DA has now started prosecuting people on 647(j) Illegal Lodging and people can spend up to six months in jail.
One member of the Board of Supervisor, Gavin Newsom, who is also a mayoral candidate for the next election, has made repeated attempts to put out even more anti-homeless legislation. A measure entitled "Care Not Cash" was introduced by Gavin Newsom, which passed a citywide vote by nearly 60 percent.
A Superior Court judge ruled that only city officials could enact such a law. The Board of Supervisors will make their final decision in late July. If the measure passes it will cut the cash assistance checks that homeless people receive from up to $395 to as little as $59. The Care Not Cash legislation is supposed to give people who receive general assistance shelter, food, health services, job training, substance abuse and mental health treatment in exchange for cutting peopleís general assistance check.
Gavin Newsom is also attempting to reintroduce his ban on panhandling directly to voters. He wants to amend a 1992 law that bans aggressive panhandling. Newsom wants to extend the ban to median strips, parking lots, near schools, and at bus stops. Violating the proposed law would result in fines up to $100 or community service. He has also proposed a program called "San Francisco Cares" that would make vouchers for services such as food and clothing available for the public to buy and give to homeless people instead of cash.
The Hotel Council of San Francisco has launched an advertising campaign that targets panhandlers. The ads feature pictures of tourists and San Francisco residents that say, "Today we rode a cable car, visited Alcatraz, and supported a drug habit. Giving to panhandlers doesnít help, it hurts." Other ads show cups that have disparaging statements like "Desperate for Crack." The total cost of the ad campaign was $65,000. The adds can be viewed at www.wewantchange.com.
In order to access some shelters and services a person must have finger scanning done. Finger scanning or imaging is the same as finger printing.
Renee Saucedo of the Day Laborers Program states that day laborers are frequently pushed off of a stretch of road leading into the city in the name of traffic safety. Such occurrences pose a very serious threat to undocumented immigrants, for whom any contact with a police officer could mean potential deportation. This makes it unsafe for day laborers to obtain the work that they need to survive.
LS Wilson of the San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness states harassment of the homeless population in San Francisco also comes in the form of property confiscation. Both the Department of Public Works and the police department have teamed up to employ this tactic in order to put pressure on homeless people.
Mara Raider of the San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness reports that at this point, individuals have been put into a place of apathy and complacency surrounding this issue. Having their property stolen is no longer a surprise but an expectation. If they havenít had all of their sentimental belongings stolen by either the DPW or the police department in the past, they donít expect to hold onto anything for long.
The biggest change over the past two years is the presence of more anti-homeless cops. Whereas before, a few police officers could be identified as being specifically abusive toward homeless people, there are now many anti-homeless cops spread out over the city. Basically, no place is safe for homeless people to reside to do the things that they must do in order to survive. They are forced to constantly move away from the harassment. This represents an endless cycle that is currently occurring in San Francisco. Once a group of people ends up in another place, they will then be forced to leave their new location because of a different type of harassment. This allows homeless people absolutely NO stability and has only spread out the larger encampments, thus making the population less visible as a cohesive group. This harassment, in combination with the consequent legal fines and court appearances, makes it very difficult for homeless individuals to maintain any sort of stable living or financial situation.
Homeless individuals are also frequently victims of hate crimes and violence in general. There has been an uprise in the amount of anti-homeless rhetoric one encounters in the media, politics, and in everyday discourse. Homeless people are constantly depicted as being dirty, lazy, drug-addicted, drunks, and a general nuisance to the city.
LS Wilson (COH) reports a group of well-organized housed residents around Dolores Park have applied pressure on a drop-in center for the homeless inside Golden Gate Lutheran Church and forced it to close down. This same group targeted a shower program in the area at Mission High School. Metropolitan Community Church Foundation runs the shower program out of the high school and their contract was up for renewal on June 30, 2003. The shower program is only open on weekends for poor and homeless individual, it provides showers, clothing and some toiletries. The housed residents rallied to try and get the school board not to renew the contract. After a long hearing and lots of public testimonies the school board agreed to renew the contract for another year and try to expand the services throughout the city. These housed residents feel if they close down all services to homeless people, homeless people will not hang out in Dolores Park.
This March, a man was woken up by a police officer and before being cited for trespassing, was punched in the face and slammed on the ground, having posed no danger to the officer. There was another case where a vehicular lodged man pulled to the side of the road and fell asleep because he did not have access to his medication. While an officer was beginning to fill out a form for a suspected DUI case, the man woke up confused and was tasered in the head by the officer. The man was detained and arrested, and he was denied access to medication the entire time, resulting in a trip to the emergency room.
In June a woman was dragged out of her vehicle taken to jail in her nightclothes without shoes. She was charged with illegal lodging. She was released from jail in the early morning before daylight with no shoes and when she complained the officer told her it was not his problem. The Office of Citizen Complaints (OCC) sees this harassment and attack as retaliation from the police officer because of an ongoing investigation of a number of dog shootings. These attitudes have often turned into violence, most notably at the hands of the San Francisco Police Department.
The city has actually succeeded in spending very large amounts of money dealing with homelessness in its own way. An audit of homeless services reported in fiscal years 2000 and 2001, the city spent $30.8 million on incarcerating homeless people. Some private groups around the city are tackling the problem in a similar way. The Golden Gate Restaurant Association recently ran a $50,000 billboard campaign urging San Franciscans to vote in favor of the recently proposed welfare cuts. After all of this spending, last yearís budget included cuts to services and treatment offered to homeless people.
The San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness Civil Rights Project collects infraction citations issued to homeless individuals and defends them in court. Over 90% of these citations that are collected by the COH are dismissed in court. COH, however, simply does not have the resources to represent a significant percentage of the citations.
San Juan, Puerto Rico
Police officers will often hose down places where the homeless sleep in order deter them from staying there for the night. People are sometimes taken by police in the night and left in other cities.
San Mateo County, CA
A couple, Thelma Caballero and Besh Serdahely, have lived in a small hut inside an oak tree for 12 years. A new land survey discovered that the oak tree was on county property. The county has responded with serving the couple with an eviction notice. They had 30 days to leave the property. Shortly after the eviction notice was posted, police arrived to arrest Serdahely on a five-year old misdemeanor warrant. He was released five days later. Mary Burns, director of the County Parks and Recreation Department, said, "Parks are not for housing. We want to be as sensitive as possible, but we must also provide safe parks and be good stewards to the land." Local environmental groups support the couple, saying that they are helping to keep non-native plants out of the area.
Santa Barbara, CA
The city council passed a law that bans RVs from being parked on city streets for more than two hours. There is a complete ban on parking between the hours of 2 AM and 6 AM. Each parking citation carries a $23 fine, after the fifth ticket the vehicle will be towed to an impound lot. Homeless advocates have filed a suit against the city alleging that the law is unconstitutional. An estimated 400 individuals/families live in RVs in the Santa Barbara area.
Santa Cruz, CA
The city council voted unanimously to expand an outdoor seating area between two food kiosks. The city will erect a railing to mark off the eating area. This expansion will force several panhandlers and street musicians, that hang out around the kiosks, to relocate. Many of the people that will have to move are homeless youth.
Groups of homeless men and women can now camp in three designated parks for two weeks at a time. The groups cannot be larger than fifteen. In return for the right to camp, people will have to do community service such as clearing streams and trash cleanup. After months of requests from business owners in downtown Santa Cruz the city council passed a series of new laws. Many of the new laws were suggested in a petition that was collected by a group of business owners. The council voted to:
Homeless activist Becky Johnson and artist Tim Rinker were found guilty of defacing a city sidewalk with chalk. They wrote slogans such as "Vandals donít use chalk" and "Sleeping is not a crime." They were sentenced to serve 23 hours of community service.
Santa Monica, CA
An ordinance passed the City Council by a vote of 5-2 that limits free outdoor meals by requiring groups serving 150 or more people to adhere to community event laws and county health standards. Individuals are limited to three permits within a 90-day period. The health department will also be required to conduct inspections A second ordinance passed unanimously that makes it illegal to sit or lie in doorways between 11p.m. and 7 a.m. if the business owner posts a sign to that effect. Violating either ordinance could result in a $1,000 fine or up to six months in County Jail or both.
Santa Rosa, CA
A man received a $450 fine for watching television in his van. The man was threatened with the suspension of his driverís license if he could not pay the fine. The van is his home so he also faces being arrested for driving if his license is suspended.
After months of complaints from business owners and downtown residents the City Council voted to ban panhandling, public urination, and sleeping outside. The Council defined the ban on panhandling as, all areas downtown, within 20 feet of an ATM, at public parks, beaches and bus stops. Sleeping is defined as outside after sunset in a tent, under blankets, on a piece of cardboard or with any other form of temporary shelter. Between February and July 16, 2003 the police arrested 120 people for overnight camping. This is a dramatic increase since the previous year. Mid-February marks the peak of the arrival of people from the north that winter in Florida. The police have also arrested over 210 people for open container and curbside drinking. The people arrested for camping spend an average of two days in jail at a cost of $60 a night, the total cost so far for 2003 is $14,000. The police have not been directing anyone to social services though local advocates are working with them to develop a program that would train officers on the services available.
Sioux Falls, SD
Mayor Dave Munson proposed that the city make it illegal to sleep outdoors. The suggestion came after downtown merchants began complaining of the increasing homeless population. There were no initial plans to act on the mayorís suggestion.
Stanislaus County, CA
The Board of Supervisors approved an ordinance that would ban panhandling, asking for jobs, or selling things on public streets, highways and private parking lots. The first offense will cost $100, a second offense $200, and a third offense is a maximum penalty of $400. The ban will not extend to the countyís nine cities.
Union City, CA
People that live in vehicles, including mobile homes, but park them on city streets and in private parking lots can now be cited by the police. If a vehicle is parked for more than two hours, whether the owner is sleeping or simply parked, the police have the right to tow the vehicle.
Union City, NJ
Several homeless camps will be cleared out when the warm weather arrives in 2003. During the winter months several crimes, including two murders, occurred in the camps along the Palisades cliffs. The police plan to assign additional teams of officers to the area in an effort to prevent residents of the camps from returning.
Van Nuys, CA
A recent rise in the homeless population led the police to organize a sweep of the downtown government complex. The officers woke those that were sleeping outside and removed their possessions. Some homeless men and women that have lived outside in Van Nuys for years blame the recent sweeps in Los Angeles for the rise in the homeless population. Until recently the police have not bothered the homeless individuals.
The City Council is considering an ordinance that would ban aggressive panhandling. The city plans to base their ordinance off of the 1988 Seattle ordinance that restricted aggressive panhandling. The ordinance would define aggressive panhandling as aggressively begging in a public place or obstructing pedestrian or vehicular traffic.
Police officers raided a homeless encampment in the Mojave riverbed. Everyone who was present at the time was arrested for trespassing, taken to the West Valley Detention Center and then released. Members of the Sheriffís Department destroyed their belongings, slashing tents and sleeping bags. There is only one shelter available in town and it requires two forms of I.D.s, allow no belongings, and will not allow homeless individuals with a felony on their records.