Sunday, August 09, 2009

Being poor means being a criminal

Barbara Ehrenreich has written a new Op-Ed in which she demonstrates that cities are making life increasingly hard for the less fortunate.

In defiance of all reason and compassion, the criminalization of poverty has actually been intensifying as the recession generates ever more poverty. So concludes a new study from the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, which found that the number of ordinances against the publicly poor has been rising since 2006, along with ticketing and arrests for more “neutral” infractions like jaywalking, littering or carrying an open container of alcohol.

As an example:

Al Szekely [is a] grizzled 62-year-old, he inhabits a wheelchair and is often found on G Street in Washington — the city that is ultimately responsible for the bullet he took in the spine in Fu Bai, Vietnam, in 1972. He had been enjoying the luxury of an indoor bed until last December, when the police swept through the shelter in the middle of the night looking for men with outstanding warrants.

It turned out that Mr. Szekely, who is an ordained minister and does not drink, do drugs or curse in front of ladies, did indeed have a warrant — for not appearing in court to face a charge of “criminal trespassing” (for sleeping on a sidewalk in a Washington suburb). So he was dragged out of the shelter and put in jail. “Can you imagine?” asked Eric Sheptock, the homeless advocate (himself a shelter resident) who introduced me to Mr. Szekely. “They arrested a homeless man in a shelter for being homeless.”

I strongly suggest reading the rest of the article. While I sympathize with anybody who doesn't want homeless guys wandering up to them while going to the store or gas station, that doesn't mean there's a need to criminalize the behavior of the homeless. If we're not going to take action to solve their homelessness to begin with, surely we can't complain when they need to sleep in parks or "loiter" on sidewalks. How does hauling off a homeless person to jail for being homeless help them or us? They're obviously not going to be paying for the service. And if we're going to provide them with a place to sleep, eat, and shower anyway, there's probably no need to put bars on it and send out police to round people up just to get them to go to it.

I really don't get why people want to make the homeless problem disappear simply by making homeless people disappear. Going by the laws in Dallas, they can't sleep in public, can't sleep under bridges, can't sleep on private property, can't just stand around going nowhere in particular, can't beg for anything, and people can't just give them food. It's like the only thing that's legal for them to do is walk right out of town and keep going until they end up somewhere that nobody lives. And not only do we not seem willing to help the homeless out, we don't seem to be willing to help people not become homeless! I suppose it's because plenty of people believe John Stossel when he says that homeless people are only homeless because they want to be. Hopefully not too many of those people will have to experience homelessness to change their minds.


Xanthippas said...

Agreed. Easier to sweep the problems under the rug of course. As long as we have pedophiles living under bridges, and homeless people in jails, then where's the problem, right?

Xanthippas said...

Also, John Stossel is a fucking moron. Many homeless are mentally ill, so they "want" to be homeless about as much as they "want" to hear the voices in their heads or suffer other delusions that prevent them from living normal lives.