Homes Not Handcuffs
Criminalizing the homeless is a growing trend in the United States. The National Coalition for the Homeless says, proponents of this approach believe that punitive measures will deter people from choosing to be homeless. For many, homelessness is not a choice it is the result of job loss or a mental illness. Cities across the country are making things like sleeping, eating, and sitting in public a crime. Violators of these laws will face fines or even jail time. We need to criminalize the criminals that are homeless, not just the act of being homeless. I am going to argue that criminalizing the homeless is wrong because it is unconstitutional, because it will not help end homelessness, and because transitional housing and other programs are more effective long term. First, criminalizing the homeless is wrong because it is unconstitutional. “The City could not expressly criminalize the status of homelessness by making it a crime to be homeless without violating the Eighth Amendment, nor can it criminalize acts that are in integral aspect of that status. Because the City has substantial and undisputed evidence that the number of homeless persons far exceeds the available number of shelter beds. The City has encroached upon Appellants Eighth Amendment protections by criminalizing the unavoidable act of sitting, lying or sleeping at night while being involuntarily homeless” (O’Connor, 238). Many cities that have anti homeless legislation end up having it overturned because it violates the eighth amendment, and then it ends up rewritten and passed again, only to be over turned and so on. If cities are not willing to provide enough emergency shelters it can not criminalize the homeless for taking care of their basic needs. In Arizona the SB 1351 bill was introduced and it would allow anyone suspected of public intoxication or if they are a danger to themselves or others to be arrested. A UMOM SB 1351 fact sheet says, it may sound innocuous, but these ordinances have historically been used to arrest homeless individuals including veterans. Such arrests are successful in hiding the homeless from public view, but do not actually help address the underlying of chronic homelessness such as substance abuse, mental illness or post-traumatic stress disorder (UMOM). Next, criminalizing the homeless is not the answer because will not help end chronic homelessness. Criminalization of the homeless would get them off the streets, but it would also put them back on the streets with a growing arrest record only making it more difficult for them to better themselves. There have been many reports that criminalizing the homeless actually costs more or the same as getting them the help they need, so why are cities choosing this as a solution? The UMOM SB 1351 fact sheet says that according to the Morrison Institute for Public Policy, basic jail costs including booking, housing, food and medical care can cost more than $27,000 per person per year. It does not connect the chronically homeless to the services and support they need to obtain and maintain housing (UMOM). It costs far more in the long run than “Housing First” approaches that provide stable housing and supportive services immediately to chronically homeless individuals (UMOM). This is yet another reason why criminalization is not the answer, because there are more effective solutions to help end homelessness. Finally, criminalizing the homeless is not the answer because transitional housing and other programs are more effective long term. Criminalizing the homeless can create a cycle that will only make it harder for the homeless to fix their situation. Emergency shelters and transitional housing can do great things for the homeless and their families. It not only helps short term but also can help steer these people in the right direction to better their lives and futures permanently so they do not end up in the situation again. I get letters from the UMOM New...
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