Misconception of Homeless

There is a laundry list of negative stereotypes that are associated with the homeless and how they became displaced. Some assume that all individuals who are homeless are criminals. Others believe that they are all alcoholics and drug addicts. Maybe the most prevalent misconception is that they are simply too lazy to work. These inaccurate portrayals can make it extremely difficult for homeless individuals to improve their difficult situations. Studies have found that a majority of homelessness is actually caused by traumatic events or economic factors (insufficient income, job loss, loss of loved ones, etc.).

With inadequate housing or shelter options, many homeless people are forced to live out of doors and in public places. Despite this fact, many local governments have chosen to remove visibly homeless people from our shared streets, parks, and other public places by treating the performance of basic human behaviors - like sitting down, sleeping, and bathing – as criminal activities. 

The Crimilization of Homelessness

                               Who benefits from this “criminalization of poverty”?

In the short-term, municipalities and counties may appear to benefit, as well as the private companies that increasingly provide probation services and operate detention facilities and prisons. In addition, the increasing barriers, such as drug testing and criminal record searches, to social benefits like public housing, SNAP, and TANF may also temporarily help relieve cash-strapped local governments. But the overall effect is to perpetuate poverty and even expand the poverty population, to no possible good effect. Poor and indigent people cannot afford to pay for the means to coerce and incarcerate them, and nothing is gained by repeatedly jailing them. The criminalization of poverty – and increasing impoverishment of people judged to be criminals — amounts to a system of organized sadism.

 Local governments increased the fees, fines and court costs they levied for minor transgressions, and at the same time, increased the number of possible misdemeanors to include truancy (for which parents can be punished), driving with an expired license (as is the case in Washington, DC), putting one’s feet up on a subway seat (in New York City), and a variety of other minor infractions. The latter two are grounds for immediate arrest, leading to the imposition of fines and court costs. If the defendant cannot pay, he or she may be jailed and, in the ugliest twist of all – later charged for the cost of room and board, then re-jailed for failing to pay that. If the defendant is put on probation, he or she must pay for the probation officer and anything else required for monitoring, like an ankle bracelet.
Today, when applying for welfare in the United States, many applicants are photographed, finger-printed, drug-tested, interrogated, and asked to prove paternity of children.  Similarly, eligibility for public housing is restricted or denied if the applicant has a criminal record, including misdemeanors or a prior lease violation. Further, local Public Housing Authorities can be even more restrictive and evict occupants if a member of their family or another person residing in — or in some cases visiting — commits a crime, such as a misdemeanor drug offense.

Poverty, in other words, is too often treated as a criminal offense.

Poor people are facing more fines and fees for misdemeanors like traffic violations. When they are unable to pay these fines, they are suffering harsher outcomes. They often wind up in jail or prison, where they accrue additional debt due to charges for costs related to public defender services, room and board during lockup, probation and parole supervision, drug and alcohol abuse treatment, and DNA samples. 

The "Because We Care" Campaign was created to bring awareness about people who are homeless and the misconceptions of homelessness.  
To encourage businesses, service providers, organizations, and churches to show their patrons that everyone is welcome no matter who you are. 

  Show your support and join the
​“Because We Care” community!
Hiding The Homeless

VICE News began its investigation in Boise, ID, where a group of homeless people have filed a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of these laws. Their case could change the way homeless people are treated across the country.


The Criminalization of Homelessness
is Increasing Across the Country

There has been an increase in laws criminalizing
homelessness since our last report in 2011. While the increase is seen for nearly every surveyed category of criminalization law, the most dramatic uptick has been in city-wide bans on fundamental human activities. This increase in city-wide bans shows that the nature of criminalization is changing and that cities are moving toward prohibiting unavoidable, life sustaining activities throughout entire communities rather than in specific areas, effectively criminalizing a homeless person’s very existence.

Camping in Public  
One common form of criminalizationmeasurei s to prohibit “ camping” in public. These laws are often written broadly to encompass a wide range of living arrangements, prohibiting homeless people from using any resource that might be their only option for shelter. In Minneapolis, for example, it is illegal for a homeless person to use a “camp car, house trailer, automobile, tent or other temporary structure” as temporary housing anywhere in the city. Other laws go even further, defining camping to include the simple act of “sleeping out-of-doors.” Of the cities surveyed for this report, our research reveals that:

  • 34% of cities have city-wide bans on camping. This represents a 60% increase in such laws since 2011.
  • 57% of cities ban camping in particular public​ places, a 16% increase. 

City-wide bans against camping are distinguishable from other forms of criminalization in that these laws are enforced not only against homeless people who “camp” in public places, but also against those who do so on private property, even with the express consent of the property owners. Indeed, these laws may subject consenting private property owners to fines and other legal penalties for allowing homeless people to camp on their property.

Sleeping in Public
It is impossible for a human being to forego sleep for a lengthy period of time, yet many cities have chosen to outlaw sleeping in public spaces. In Manchester, New Hampshire, for example, it is illegal to for a person to, “lounge or sleep in or upon any of the commons or squares of the city.

  • 18% of cities have city-wide bans on sleeping in public. This number has remained constant.
  • 27% of cities ban sleeping in particular public places, a 34% decline in such laws.
Criminalization Laws Are Costly to Taxpayers
Criminalization is the most expensive and least effective way of addressing homelessness. A growing body of research comparing the cost of homelessness (including the cost of criminalization) with the cost of providing housing to homeless people shows that housing is the most affordable option. With state and local budgets stretched to their limit, rational, cost-effective policies are needed – not ineffective measures that waste precious taxpayer dollars.

Examples of Cost Savings Studies:
  • In its 2013 Comprehensive Report on Homelessness, the Utah Housing and Community Development Division reported that the annual cost of emergency room visits and jail stays for an average homeless person was $16,670, while providing an apartment and a social worker cost only $11,000.
  • A 2013 analysis by the University of New Mexico Institute for Social Research of the Heading Home Initiative in Albuquerque, New Mexico showed that, by providing housing, the city reduced spending on homelessness-related jail costs by 64%.
  • A 2014 economic-impact analysis by Creative Housing Solutions evaluating the cost of homelessness in Central Florida found that providing chronically homeless people with permanent housing and case managers would save taxpayers $149 million in reduced law enforcement and medical care costs over the next decade.

Criminalization Laws Are Ineffective
Criminalization measures do nothing to address the underlying causes of homelessness and, instead, only worsen the problem. Misusing police power to arrest homeless people is only a temporary intervention, as most people are arrested and incarcerated for short periods of time. Ultimately, arrested homeless people return to their communities, still with nowhere to live and now laden with financial obligations, such as court fees, that they cannot pay. Moreover, criminal convictions – even for minor crimes – can create barriers to obtaining critical public benefits, employment, or housing, thus making homelessness more difficult to escape.

Loitering, Loafing, or Vagrancy Laws
  • City-wide bans on loitering, loafing, and vagrancy have increased by 35%.
  • Bans on sitting or lying down in particular places have decreased by 3%.

Sitting or Lying Down in Public
  • City-wide bans on sitting or lying down in particular public places have increased by 43%.

Sleeping in Vehicles
  • Bans on sleeping in vehicles have increased by 119%.
The High National Cost of Barriers to Employment
The Center for American Progress found that the employment rate dropped in 2008 because 1.7 million workers were ineligible for employment due to criminal records.  If the formerly incarcerated population and people with criminal histories had access to employment, they could make substantial economic contributions to their communities. The nation would see increased earnings that would result in a higher tax base coupled with reduced recidivism linked to employment.  It costs more than $80 billion annually to maintain the U.S. prison system, and unemployment for those with criminal records reduces GDP by as much as $65 billion per year.

We have a crisis in our local jails. Annual admissions have doubled in the past 20 years to almost 12 million people. Most alarming is the lesser-known fact that out of the 733,000 people held in local jails at this time, three-fifths of them have not been convicted and many are there simply because they are too poor to post even a small bail while they await processing of their cases.

Beyond Unemployment: Barriers to Immediate Needs
According to a report issued in 2012, 95 percent of the population in jail or prison will be released back to the community. For many of these ex-offenders or those arrested or not convicted, reentry into the community can be daunting. Upon reentry into society, those released from jail are faced with multiple needs, including housing, employment, and childcare. In addition, many are released with physical and mental health issues and about 75 percent have histories of substance abuse. Those convicted of crimes face a multitude of collateral consequences in which they are barred from housing and other public benefits.​
Begging in Public
Laws restricting or prohibiting begging are common. Some laws prohibit the activity outright, while others place strict limitations on how the action is performed. In Springfield, Illinois, for example, it is unlawful to make “any vocal appeal in which a person requests an immediate donation of money or other gratuity.” 

That law, currently the subject of litigation as an unconstitutional violation of First Amendment rights, permits only the silent use of signs or other written communication to request donations of food or money.  Other laws prohibiting "aggresive panhandling", although purportedly aimed at curbing threatening or intimidating behavior that may acompany begging, are sometimes designed to be enforced against people who are engaged in harmless activities when requesting a donation. 

  • 24% of cities have city-wide bans on begging in public. This represents a 25% increase in such laws since 2011.
  • 76% of cities ban begging in particular public places, a 20% increase in such laws.
 Hate Crimes andViolence Committed againstHomeless People in 2013
Over the last 15 years, National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) has determined the following:
1,437 reported acts of violence have been committed against homeless individuals
375 of the victims have lost their lives as a result of the attacks
 • Reported violence has occurred in 47 states, Puerto Rico, and Washington, DC
 • Perpetrators of these attacks were generally male and under the age 30; most commonly they were teenage boys.

Specifically, in 2013:
85% of all perpetrators were under the age of 30
93% of all perpetrators were male
65% of all victims were 40 years old or older
90% of all victims were male
18 of the 109 attacks resulted in death
You Can Go to Jail
for Being Homeless ​and Poor In the USA
Things You Can Do to Help Poor and/or Homeless People That Cost Little or Nothing
People have more excuses than there is space here to list them all, for not helping the less fortunate.

Sometimes writing your congressman or woman regularly and telling them to stop arguing over gay marriage and abortion, and to stop wasting tax dollars (millions of wasted tax dollars at this time) trying to repeal ObamaCare for the 52nd time (or are we on number 53 now?) is better than doing nothing at all.

No, one letter is not likely to make a difference. Write them every week, and actively encourage your friends, family members, coworkers, and neighbors, to do the same. If that is all you can do, it is better than doing nothing at all.

Write the letter in long hand and mail it. Letters of this kind carry far more weight than emails or phone calls, because Congress members know you care enough to take the time to write it out and put a stamp on it and take it to the post-office. That tells them you mean business.

Get involved with organizations who are helping homeless people.  Maybe you can help with a collection drive, collect food or blankets or toothpaste or shampoo for those people who need those things even if you cannot afford to contribute money. Find out more about collection drives. 

One thing everyone can do is protest LOUDLY when their city attempts or succeeds in passing ignorant mean spirited laws against poor people simply for being poor. Just because a law passes does not mean citizens must lie down and play dead and accept that law. Get it repealed.

Work to get the people who passed that law out of office at the first opportunity and promise any future office holders they will get the same treatment if they dare to even suggest continuing or reinstating such a law.

If the unfairness and mean spiritedness of such a law is not incentive enough for you to work for its defeat or repeal, consider that one day it could well apply to you or someone you care about. Then again, I guess a person who favors such a law would not have anyone in their lives they care about . . .

Wealthy people and business owners want these laws because they believe the presence of homeless people in their city gives outsiders a bad image of that city, not to mention that it is difficult to imagine such people do not exist if you see them on the streets on a regular basis. Many people sleep better when they can successfully pretend homeless people either do not exist, or that they deserve to be in their situation.  Making homeless people criminals can go a long way in accomplishing this mindset for a lot of people.

Wealthy people and business owners are all but always the minority.  Overrule them with your majority of ordinary, average, compassionate people, and let them know that if you hear even a whisper of them favoring laws that make being poor a crime that you will never set foot in their establishment again.  Not even if you must drive a hundred miles or more to get what you need. Let them know that your word of mouth advertising for them will not be beneficial either.

Sadly, the only thing these people care about is money, so their bank account is where it hurts them most.  They care nothing about people, or they would never even conceive such an idea, much less support or establish a law that makes being poor a crime.

With 2.3 million Americans behind bars, the criminal justice system is larger than ever. Its growing tentacles have caught almost every demographic subset of our country. The U.S. has less than five percent of the world’s population, yet incarcerates nearly a quarter of the world’s prisoners. The system also has massive hidden economic and societal costs that reverberate throughout society, affecting all of us.