April V. Taylor
London isn’t the only city taking to extreme measures to prevent homeless people from being able to sleep, eat or care for themselves; many cities in the United States are in on the action too. The National Alliance to End Homeless estimates that on any given night, there are 610,042 homeless people on the streets of American cities. Each year, 1.5 million children find themselves homeless in the United States. Most of these people, which includes children and families, find themselves homeless because of poverty, unemployment and a lack of affordable housing. It seems cities would put their efforts into addressing these underlying causes, but instead many put great effort into laws and actions that prevent homeless people from finding a place to rest, receiving a free meal or reaching out for help.
One of the ways cities prevent homeless people from being in public spaces is creating loitering laws. Some of these laws have been struck down for being impermissibly vague, but that has not kept municipalities from enforcing them, usually in discriminatory fashion, on homeless people. Another tactic used to keep homeless people out of public spaces where they may try to rest or sleep is noise projection. An example of this is the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco. The establishment projected construction noises on loudspeakers into a nearby park to keep homeless people from being able to sleep there between the hours of 11 p.m. and 7 a.m..
Two tactics that target homeless people’s ability to eat and take care of their basic needs are cities placing bans of feeding the homeless in public and the implementation of anti-panhandling and anti-begging laws. In 2012, Philadelphia implemented a ban on feeding homeless people in parks. Despite the Philadelphia law being declared unconstitutional, some 50 other cities in the United States still ban feeding the homeless in public. Some cities go a step further and prevent private food donations to the homeless. In addition, despite the fact that freedom of speech is protected under the First Amendment, nearly 47 percent of all cities in the U.S. prevent homeless people from being able to ask for money in public through anti-panhandling laws.
American citizens, no matter their economic condition, deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Instead of creating laws and measures that discriminate against homeless people and prevent them from sleeping and eating, effort needs to go into eliminating homelessness and providing safe places where their basic needs can be met.
Nearly 35 percent of U.S. cities have laws that restrict camping in public spaces, and many times, when these laws are enforced, police seize what little property a homeless person may have. To make matters worse, some cities have placed bans on services being provided to the homeless, such as free haircuts or free clothing. For homeless people who try to do what they can to care for themselves by collecting cans, some cities allow grocery stores and other establishments to place arbitrary limits on how many cans a person can turn in in one day.