Wednesday, February 6, 2013

2 Years in Jail for Sitting on a Milk Crate? The Shocking Ways America Punishes Poor People Living on the Street

Laws all over the country are designed solely to target the homeless. There are better solutions.

  Editor's note: There are more than one million homeless people in America and 138 million people who live paycheck to paycheck. Many more are struggling, wondering how they'll make rent or get enough food. Those numbers are astounding. This is America. Many proudly think our society is fair, but the evidence overwhelmingly shows that fairness in America is a myth. In the weeks and months ahead, AlterNet will shine more light on America's economic injustice in an ongoing series, Hard Times USA. Since many have chosen to look aside, or think the traditional ways of doing politics will fix things, there is still much to learn about how this problem will be solved, or not solved.

We are launching our ongoing series with two articles today: Part 1, below, looks at how America punishes poor people living on the street, part of a larger pattern of dealing with poverty through criminalization rather than social and policy fixes that have been shown to work better.

In 2008, Atlanta police orchestrated an unusual sting: officers shed their uniforms to go undercover as tourists and office workers, a stunt designed to entrap beggars in the city's tourist areas. Forty-four people were arrested for panhandling in one month. The best part about the sting, police officials said at the time, according to the  Atlanta Journal Constitution, was that while actual tourists rarely bothered to come back to testify about their terrible abuse at the hands of the city's beggars, the undercover cops would make for enthusiastic witnesses. At the time, Atlanta had banned panhandling within 15 feet of an ATM, bus stop, taxi stand, payphone, public toilet -- and anywhere after dark.
 
Laws that restrict panhandling are designed to target poor people living on the street. Other examples of laws that apply almost exclusively to the unhoused include bans on sitting or lying down on the sidewalk, eating in public, setting up camp or sleeping in a park or other public places. Advocates say these laws are used as a tool to drive the homeless out of sight.

Read on....

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