The 10 Most Ridiculous Anti-Homeless Laws – Part II

The National Coalition for the Homeless would like to offer a preview of our upcoming report on the criminalization of homelessness by choosing the top ten most ridiculous anti-homeless policies enacted in cities across America. Our criminalization report will offer narratives for many more cities and occurrences than the ones listed here, as well as rank the nation’s ten “meanest” cities. This post counts down our choices for the 5 most ridiculous anti-homeless laws/actions. An earlier article ranking policies 10 through 6 is available here.

10 Most Ridiculous Anti-Homeless Laws
~From 2010 through June 2011~

 5. Panhandling Bans – Multiple Cities

A rapidly increasing number of cities are designating areas where it is illegal to ask for any item of value. In Miami FL, for instance, panhandling is not allowed around American Airlines Arena and other tourist-heavy areas. Dallas TX also banned panhandling in popular tourist destinations in preparation for hosting the Super Bowl. Some cities, like St. Petersburg FL, even issued bans that cover the entire city.

Despite laws already being in place to guard against “aggressive” panhandling and asking for help clearly being a first amendment right, the courts have had mixed conclusions on these ordinances. An appellate court in New York said that such bans are unconstitutional, while panhandling bans for certain areas, such as around ATM’s and banks, were upheld in Minneapolis MN.

Oakland Park FL decided to take their roadway panhandling ban a step further: not only is it illegal to ask for anything of value, it is also illegal to give. In the name of traffic safety, anyone caught giving to or purchasing something from anybody on the road can face either a fine of $50 to $100 or up to 90 days in jail.

4. Camping Bans – Multiple Cities

Some cities, including Anchorage AK and Kansas City MO, have passed “anti-camping” ordinances and are destroying homeless camps both within metropolitan areas, such as those under bridges and in abandoned lots, and deep within parks and forests. Many municipalities interpret “camping” to mean setting up structures such as tents, while others will issue citations for simply using a sleeping bag because it provides shelter from the elements. For example, Salt Lake City UT has produced horror stories of people receiving camping citations for sitting on their backpack in a park.

Police “sweeps” of homeless camps, which are intended to clear out residents and their makeshift shelters, have resulted in the loss of very important property, such as medication, birth certificates, ID, and personal mementos. Due to legal challenges nationwide, like one in Portland OR and another in Sacramento CA, many cities that perform these sweeps have instituted systems to provide warning time to campers and to retain their seized belongings for a fixed period of time. Without this process, numerous homeless victims have illegally lost what little property they had, and even with it many more still stand to lose their belongings due to the difficulty of retrieving it. Ultimately, these crackdowns on homeless camps only waste taxpayer money and cause unnecessary hardship in order to move the problem of homelessness instead of solve it by providing adequate access to housing and services.

3. Sit/Lie Ban – San Francisco, California

“Stand up for the right to sit down!” This is the rally cry of those who are protesting a San Francisco ordinance that makes it illegal to sit or lie down on the city’s sidewalks between 7 am and 11 pm. The city claims that the ordinance is intended to limit panhandling and to reduce San Francisco’s homeless population by discouraging homeless people from living there. Opponents say that it is unconstitutional to force somebody to walk and stand all day simply because they have nowhere to go. Similar ordinances exist in cities across the country, including Austin TX, Seattle WA, and Reno NV to name a few.

2. Food Sharing Limits – Orlando, Florida

Since when is it illegal to give somebody food? In Orlando FL, it has been since April 2011, when a group of activists lost a court battle against the city to overturn its 2006 laws that restrict sharing food with groups of more than 25 people. The ordinance requires those who do these “large” charitable food sharings in parks within two miles of City Hall to obtain a permit and limits each group to two permits per park for a year. Food sharing is considered to be a form of speech, but the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the ordinance still provides ample areas for groups to practice their first amendment rights because they can still share food elsewhere in the city.

The law was not enforced during the legal battle, but after the lawsuit against the city failed, Orlando began cracking down on those who chose to defy the ordinance, resulting in multiple arrests of activists from Food Not Bombs. “‘They basically carted them off to jail for feeding hungry people,’ said [Douglas Coleman from Orlando Food Not Bombs]. ‘For them to regulate a time and place for free speech and to share food, that is unacceptable.’”

Food sharing prohibitions are far from a new development and are not only found in Orlando. In 2010, NCH and the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty released a report on the growing popularity of these ordinances.

1. Sleeping Bans – Multiple Cities

Many city ordinances that ban public sleeping, like one in Santa Cruz CA, refer to all sleeping in public as “camping,” but the act of camping is interpreted in this article to be the use of personal shelter, such as a tent, and those laws are addressed in #4 of this list. Number one on our countdown is focused on ordinances that strictly ban all public sleeping outright, which includes cities such as Santa Cruz that make sleeping outside illegal in a de facto manner via a “camping” ordinance’s broad interpretation and enforcement.

No other type of law can quite compare to these bans when it comes to the overt criminalization of homelessness: it is undeniable that people experiencing homelessness are the only segment of the population commonly affected by ordinances that do not allow sleeping outside. To exacerbate the problem, many places with these laws, like Ashland OR, simply do not have enough shelter and services to offer violators.

Thankfully, courts have usually required cities with these ordinances to have enough shelter space available for every offender, as was the case in San Diego CA. But this policy ignores that shelters, which usually have curfews, tough crowds, and crammed beds, are not necessarily the most desirable places to live, so many people would much rather stay on the street than in what are sometimes “jail-like” places. And all too often the homeless have no choice: in St. Petersburg FL, those caught sleeping on the sidewalk are told that they can either go to a shelter or a real jail, denying them the option of avoiding systematic and strict harboring altogether. In the end, these policies can severely hurt people experiencing homelessness, resulting in jail time, outstanding fines, and a restriction of their freedoms.

For more information on the criminalization of homelessness, you can visit our 2009 Homes Not Handcuffs Report and our 2010 report on Food Sharing Prohibitions.

By Daniel Honeycutt, NCH Intern

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13 Responses to The 10 Most Ridiculous Anti-Homeless Laws – Part II

  1. Nancy Sharrar says:

    I have experienced all the thing listed on criminalization of homelessness, even as a single mother with limited finances and resources. Some cities I was in didnt even have homeless shelters at all, amazing. Alot of them I didnt qualify for because I wasnt a single male (plenty of those) or because Im not an alcoholic/addict (unbelievable!) One Salvation Army (Santa Ana, CA) because I have 4 children and they only accept families with 2 children! Really??? I was ineligible for many shelters because Im “unemployable”, however, I do have a fixed income so I am able to pay a small rent~still ineligible. Its a vicious cycle and if homeless people do not get thier basic needs met, they can never rise above the obstacles they face. It doesnt take a genius to figure that out. Any single parent with kids should be an automatic admission to shelters, its safer for the kids. Thank God for the new federal HUD-VASH program because that is the only resource available to me that I qualify for, my kids and I now have a home. People who have never been homeless will never understand the hardship of homelessness like the basic need of sleep! To me, why doesnt anybody just come out and say, its illegal to be homeless, thats about the gist of it. Homeless people have rights too, it doesnt matter so much how they ended up there, give them the help they need.

  2. disabooo says:

    The problem is that we are find ways to encourage homelessness, instead of finding ways of keeping people in their own home.

    Over the course of the last seven years, one single hand, one single voice to take my situation to help me would have saved me from the harrassment and hate from society. Are you searching, are you trying to find ways to help to find solutions? Or are you just blaming the government (we the people) for the situation that we have created? Please contact me, if you find any laws that are actually HELPING people to avoid homelessness.

  3. Oct.1,2011
    I exchanged my t-shirt with a homeless man.
    We were outside of the walgreen at 51st and Lewis.
    His shirst was a very unusual patriotic emplems and sayings.
    This shirt needs to be “re-released”
    It is a very beautiful flag -type shirt.
    It is a beefy-t design.
    I would like to sell this tee and the story..

  4. Kathleen says:

    I was surrounded by police and threatened with arrest for passing out sandwiches the other day to hungry starving people. The Christmas food drives are very upsetting to me as I have food to share and am being told it’s against the law to share it. This is America, since when have our civil liberties been so undermined that we cannot share what we have with others that have nothing and have no way of getting it . These laws must be changed. Adequate shelters must be built. Feel for these people , they are your brothers and sisters. Be the Bible, do not just espouse it. Right now I’m just figuring my next plan of action. I am almost 60 years old I do not want to be arrested but I cannot sit and do nothing while people suffer all around me.

  5. Kathleen says:

    There are currently only 10 single shelter beds and 25 rooms for families of 4 or more in Daytona Beach Florida for the homeless. I am currently trying to have a shelter built to house 500 of our more than 3000 homeless in Daytona Beach. I need everything including the land to build it on. I intend for the shelter to be a communal home , to be well hidden and out of sight and to be self sufficient with no government money involved. If the statistics are correct and 34 percent are well educated down on their luck individuals, this group home will save half of those truly in need. If you feel you can be of some assistance in this project please email me at kathymitro@yahoo.com

  6. Marc says:

    I Santa barbara, CA I have received 7 tickets for illegal lodging in the last 5 weeks. The place I was sleeping is out of the way. I do no drugs, do not drink, and even try to avoid jay-walking. Harassment is what this is, and those police officers that are giving these tickets are careful to ‘rotate’ who writes them to avoid said charge.

    Nacny, if you were in SB, all of your children would have been taken from you because of your being homeless. That is the standard policy as they claim it is endandering for a child to have no home. Good luck to all and untie to change it.

  7. who where says:

    criminization of the homeless should we commit the crime anyway because we are being charged anyway? fight to live…

  8. Frank Campbell says:

    The really frustrating thing about the social services in most cities, including shelters, is that they’re geared toward the purpose of preventing the homeless from finding employment.

    For example, most Salvation Army locations are open only during normal 9-to-5 work shift hours. If you manage to find a job, you then have to choose between keeping that job and having the food needed for survival.

  9. Dillon says:

    Another crack in the wall….A first ticket for illegal sleeping/camping….and the two officers refused to tell me where I could sleep, instead, they stated that it is illegal to sleep within the city limits. They did not tell me about any shelters when I asked. There are people downtown on park benches, in doorways, and in parks, and on the beach. Even sadder, a working woman from the .99CENTS store also got a ticket last night, for sleeping. This is an attack on poor people, and worse, we are being discriminated by some local businesses, especially MacDonolds, where management demands homeless people take their food outdoors. Last evening, an old man (yes, he smelled of urine…) was refused a single cup of coffee, even though, I made it clear, I was paying for it. McD’s tried to make me sit outside, last Thursday, and I refused. Please fight for the homeless, and our rights, in every way. When you see an injustice, please, fight back. Stand up for us. Who else will?

  10. Larry Hawkins says:

    I know the frustration. I was living in Burlington N.C. at the time………..they passed a ridiculous ordinance , that even if your car was of value, if it did not run, have brakes, and tires, even if you covered it up………..with a tarp……………

    they would come and take it…………..only way out was to build a garage for it.

    Well they showed me………….came and destroyed my possessions that I had outside in Tupperware containers, just because I staked the car to the ground and declared it real property.

    When you live in a city…………….their law overrides state and federal…………..and the only law in this country is……………he who has the money………..has LAW…………the poor and taken advantage of ……………….and politicians, and public employees exploit their positions.

    What an example of INJUSTICE……………………ONLY IN AMERICA!!!!!!!!!!!!

  11. markm8128 says:

    I am working on creating a webpage devoted to
    documenting all of the many brutal homeless camp
    evictions in California:

    California Homelessness Reporter
    http://www.california-homelessness-reporter.org/sample-page/homelessness-camp-evictions/

    Please let me know of you learn of any more!

  12. Pamela Ghafoor says:

    I have experienced the homeless shelters in Pittsburgh, Pa. myself in my quest for locating suitable housing. As a women it has not been easy because of the politics behind the running of some of the places. I been to one downtown and in the east liberty area and both had the same problems with staff being “suck-ups” and “power hungry” in their positions to pursuit to show us who really matters and what and who is really in control of things in that system. The shelters are full of drug users/pushers, alcoholics, mental health patients and various other people who are just using the system to get by.
    Myself, I am handicapped and was displaced due to housing issues and the Housing Authority shut down section 8 which made it hard to relocate with my income and health issues with not being able to climb a lot of stairs. But you go to shelters for assistance not to be placed in such a hard-core, almost pentitentrary style environment with staff banging on doors, screaming, talking to people in belittling like ways and the one was suppose to be a church collaboration run facility but the thing had no grace or kindness to it. They didn’t want to supply ice for cold water in the evening and warm water taste nasty out of the sink with medication. They cared more about the decorations of the outside and being “green” than people needing housing and jobs and proper treatment on the inside.
    Tax dollars are wasted because food is being thrown out before we can eat it or anyone but vermin and rats outside. I was told by kitchen workers that whole boxes of baked goods and sandwiches are turned in the trashed and NOTHING is wrong with them so the shelter can appear in need all the time. We may only got them twice a week. Smokers, handicapped or not had to stand or sit on hard concrete at a dangerous intersection outside which was not the correct distance for 25 feet rule from the door. They threaten you daily to leave if you don’t like whats going on. It’s easy to throw someone out after you already received the funding over their heads in grants in 10′s of thousands of dollars first. The head boss admitted he did big time for a drug problem. Sounds like the fox is running the hen house. Also, with the rest of the hounds. Who cares about us?

  13. josh j. says:

    I to am homless and have on many occasions found my camps torn up and trown out. Its hard enough as it is. Do people know how hard it is once your down? Especialy like myself and many others who need to survive on a daily basis. Not only the daily need for food. Trying to find refuge from storms and trying to not be arrested for loitering. I, m also trying to save money at the same time to get birth certificate to get an I.d. to get a s.s card etc… They have put all of these obstacles in place. I wonder why? Is it to generate money (in more ways than one)? Like fine me or take me to jail? Did you know jails actually receieve federal money for everyday that an individual stays? Not to mention all of the money that is made off an individual trying to re-establish an identity. I love when I hear people say things like dont give them money because they probably have a house, car, and more money in there pocket than you have in your account. Really??? Tell me where they are panhandling or flying a sign. I’ll be right there! I, m lucky enough to cover my bus fare from camp to pandling area and food for the day and other things like laundry etc… always having to replace clothing and other valuables that people trash and steel. I continually go through this. Its an on-going battle to look descent and feel accepted. I’ll be voiceing myself more often knowing that others actually do care.

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