While arresting homeless people can quickly remove them from public places, it is not the answer. Criminalizing homelessness is expensive and not an effective use of public resources. A study by the University of Denver on the costs of criminalization in Colorado estimated that six Colorado communities spent more than $5 million over the course of five years to enforce 14 anti-homeless ordinances.
Similarly, a report by the Yale University School of Law entitled “Forced into Breaking the Law” suggests that criminalization is “unnecessary, costly, and counterproductive.” A citizen in one public hearing cited in the report said it succinctly: “Handing out a $99 ticket to someone who has no money makes no sense.”
And yet community leaders and elected officials continue to advocate strategies that make it illegal to be homeless. This is often due to community members who don’t want homeless people near their businesses, homes, or places they frequent. One reason criminalization is chosen is leaders feel they don’t have many good alternatives. Despite this perception, however, various strategies exist that can begin to decriminalize homelessness and offer more long-term, constructive solutions.
As community leaders begin to focus on these long-term solutions, rather than irrational, ineffective criminalization strategies, they can make a serious impact in reducing and ending homelessness in their cities. One major step in this direction is increasing public awareness about the realities of homelessness, causes, and viable solutions—including sharing reasons why criminalization doesn’t work. Learn how you can help.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also created unique issues around homelessness. According to the National Homelessness Law Center, some states have banned encampment sweeps, as well as vehicle ticketing and impoundment. The organization has also called on cities to reduce incarceration for laws related to homelessness.
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