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The Criminalization of Homelessness

What does the criminalization of homelessness mean? It alludes to “the measures that prohibit life-sustaining activities such as sleeping/camping, eating, sitting, and asking for money/resources.” Laws include punishments for breaking them, which the homeless have had to endure despite their living situations and inability to pay the price for such violations. Multiple issues have come about from criminalizing the homeless, including the confiscation of personal belongings (tents, clothing, bedding, medication, etc.), the prohibition of panhandling and making it illegal for the passersby to share their food. Over the years, there have been few efforts to protect the homeless from the harsh penalties they receive when attempting to complete life-sustaining activities. Laws that constrain the goings-on of homeless people have shown little indication of improving their well-being. Instead, the homeless community has expressed that such laws are causing their lives to become more challenging and dangerous.

Research has shown that homeless people are much more likely to be sentenced to prison than housed individuals. A huge reason for this is that the homeless often get convicted for committing minor offences. Such misdeeds can include loitering, causing trouble in public, and intoxication. However, the high rate of incarceration among the homeless community has primarily come from the public nature of homelessness. The homeless get regularly accused of breaking the law while going about their daily activities, such as seeking shelter and requesting financial aid. When these instances occur, the homeless are often given fines they do not have the means to pay for, which can lead to serious consequences. This could include being incarcerated, which will cause detrimental effects for those seeking employment in the future. If homeless people are unable to find work, then it will impact whether they can provide for themselves and their families. Furthermore, people serving time in prison are often required to pay additional room and boarding fees, which increases debt for those who cannot afford it.

The serious ramifications that homeless individuals experience when undergoing their daily routines do not improve their situations, so local authorities must change or eliminate laws that contribute to anti-homelessness. Furthermore, addressing the criminalization of homelessness should include educating and training the police on how to interact with them. Informing the police authorities of the correct ways to react will expectantly reduce harassment, racial profiling, and the abuse of homeless individuals. In addition, governments should establish an enforceable law for the homeless that guarantees their protection from other laws that punish them for not having adequate housing. Most of all, it is essential that further information gets gathered about how homeless people fall into their situations and what developments lead to criminality within the homeless community.



Bergheul, Saïd. “Homelessness: Criminalization or Social Integration?” Policy Options. May 14, 2018.

“Eliminate the Criminalization of Homelessness.” The Opportunity Agenda. Accessed February 13, 2022.

Robinson, Tony. “No Right to Rest: Police Enforcement Patterns and Quality of Life Consequences of the Criminalization of Homelessness.” Urban Affairs Review 55, no. 1 (2017): 41-73.

“The Five Pillars of NCH’s Civil Rights Work: Fighting the Criminalization of Homelessness.” National Coalition for the Homeless. Accessed February 13, 2022.

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