The criminalization of the homeless has been going on for a long time but has been particularly intense over the course of the past two decades due to a variety of factors including the rise of zero-tolerance community policing strategies like Broken Windows, gentrification and hyper-incarceration. Perceptions around factors determining “livability” often drive local responses to urban homelessness.  In major cities across the nation these localized responses have frequently utilized arrest and incarceration and such responses have clearly failed. Arresting a homeless person with serious mental health issues and tossing him or her in jail for the night does little to “fix” the problem.

“A Dream Denied: The Criminalization of Homelessness in U.S. Cities”

In 2005, the National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty released a comprehensive report on the use of criminal justice responses to the problem of homelessness entitled,  “A Dream Denied: The Criminalization of Homelessness in U.S. Cities”.  As aforementioned, perceptions around “livability” are what prompt municipal authorities to send in law enforcement to make arrests. People who drive in from the suburbs to do their shopping in the city do not want to be visually unsettled by the homeless, basically.  Arrest and a night in jail, however, does nothing to provide long-term solutions to the problem.

Municipal Authorities use Ordinances to Target the Homeless

Municipal authorities will use a wide variety of city ordinances and State Statutes to arrest the homeless, providing a temporary cosmetic “fix”. Ordinances against panhandling, loitering, disorderly conduct or sleeping in public have been used in cities across the nation to criminalize the homeless. If no city ordinance fits the bill, State Statutory provisions around Trespassing or Vagrancy have also been widely used. These responses, again, fix nothing and they are also very costly.

Multiple studies support the assertion that treatment for mental health and addictive disorders, the provision of appropriate housing options, supportive services and such models as “Housing First” are far more effective over time. Such approaches are not only more effective, but also far less expensive.

Judge OKs homeless suit against Sarasota

Sarah Parker, 22, talks through the megaphone while Bryan Ellis holds up a sign during ANSWER Coalition’s rally outside the Sarasota Police Department in August 2015. The group was protesting an officer’s treatment of a homeless inmate.

Herald-Tribune staff photo by Rachel S. O’Hara

Published: Wednesday, June 22, 2016 at 7:47 p.m.

SARASOTA — The city of Sarasota saw its homeless population drastically plummet Wednesday, at least on paper, after the agency that conducts the annual homeless census amended its population count.

The Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness realized it had listed some of the transitional housing providers as being located inside the city limits when, in fact, they sit outside the city. As a result, 185 homeless people previously listed as within the city of Sarasota were reclassified as being in the unincorporated area.

Transitional housing is a short-term housing arrangement from people transitioning from the streets into more permanent living situation.

The reclassification reduced the city’s homeless population from 814 people to 632 people, which means that instead of claiming 56 percent of the region’s overall homeless population, it has just 43 percent.

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