Should Homelessness Be Criminalized?

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Did you know that Applied Survey Research counted a total of 4,539 homeless people last year in Sonoma County alone? I can vouch for the authenticity and methods used in this survey because I assisted as a counter. I am passionate about the social issue of homelessness, mainly because I was part of this population a decade ago. Applied Survey Research defines homelessness in part as, “An individual who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence…” The sad fact is that there are not enough resources to adequately shelter America’s most vulnerable citizens. Many cities have passed ordinances that have criminalized homelessness. These so called quality of life ordinances are meant to protect the society at large. Homeless people who violate these laws can end up with a citation or even incarcerated. Homelessness should not be criminalized, and I don’t think that panhandling, camping, or loitering in public places is a crime; furthermore, some of these laws violate constitutional rights. I’m vehemently against anti-panhandling ordinances. People who beg for money do so because they have a need to be met. These needs vary, but they can be for food, a bus ticket, or a phone call. A person asking for money is not much different than an organized charity asking for donations. Both are asking for money. National Coalition for the Homeless says that, “Depending on the scope of the ordinance, these types of laws can infringe on the right to free speech under the First Amendment.” Santa Rosa City Code 10-36.110 prohibits panhandling in an “aggressive manner”. The city considers the asking for money to be “aggressive“. When I reflect on when I was homeless, cannot recall any of my friends being aggressive while asking for money. You don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

I am especially outraged about camping ordinances. As mentioned earlier, there are not enough shelters in America to house the homeless. For some the only option is sleeping outside,...