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
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.