September 30, 2009

Are the nation’s homeless being helped, or simply shooed away?

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Regular readers have probably noticed our extensive coverage of homelessness in the West — particularly in Canada, where officials have made gutsy efforts to clear the streets of unwanted people in preparation for the 2010 Olympics. Unfortunately, times may get even rougher for vagrants, as an article by Judy Lightfoot in today’s Crosscut reveals that new legislation targeting homeless people is rapidly gaining support across the United States. While city officials argue the laws are there to retain order, others believe the measures violate basic human rights — and don’t treat the bigger issue.

In July, the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty and the National Coalition for the Homeless released a report that described how many U.S. cities have “criminalized” the homeless through city ordinances that target the displaced. These “civility laws” prohibit such activities as panhandling, loitering and sitting or lying on sidewalks. When those measures fall through, police have resorted to other tactics — like enforcing low-level offenses, including littering or jaywalking. But jailing the homeless is often costlier than providing the support they need to get off the streets, according to the report.

The Northwest has, in fact, used more constructive tactics for treating soaring homeless rates in recent years, as a Crosscut article by William Echols from August details. But homeless advocates still aren’t happy. Charles Brown of the The Seattle Times reported today that after Seattle Housing and Resource Effort’s request for an additional $50,000 from the city to pay for bus vouchers for homeless was turned down, the group has decided to set up camp outside Seattle Mayor Greg Nickel’s house — at least for awhile. The Seattle Post-Globe reports this afternoon that the protesters will move on tonight to camp out at a city council member’s house.

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