Discrimination against the homeless

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Discrimination against the homeless is the act of treating the homeless, or those perceived to be homeless, unfavorably. As with most types of discrimination it can manifest in numerous forms.

Discriminatory legislation regarding homelessness[edit]

Use of the law to discriminate against the homeless takes on disparate forms: restricting the public areas in which sitting or sleeping are allowed, ordinances restricting aggressive panhandling,[1] actions intended to divert the homeless from particular areas, penalizing loitering or anti-social behavior,[2] or enforcing laws on the homeless and not on those who are not homeless.[3]

The French novelist Anatole France noted this phenomenon as long ago as 1894, famously observing that "the law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges".[4]

Criminalization of homelessness in the United States[edit]

There is a growing trend in the United States towards criminalizing the state of being homeless.[5] Proponents of this approach believe that punitive measures will deter people from a homeless lifestyle.

To this end, cities across the country increasingly outlaw life-sustaining activities—such as sleeping, eating, sitting, and begging—in public spaces, and selectively enforce more neutral laws—such as those prohibiting open containers or loitering—against homeless populations.[5]

Violators of such laws typically incur criminal penalties, which result in fines or incarceration or both. Homeless people with new "criminal charges" have very restrictive housing and employment options, if either, for years.

In April 2006 the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that "making it a crime to be homeless by charging them with a crime is in violation of the 8th and 14th Amendments."[6]

Criminal victimization[edit]

Precise factors associated with victimization and injury to the homeless are not clearly understood. Nearly one-half of homeless people are victims of violence.[7] There have been many violent crimes committed against the homeless due to their being homeless.[8] A study in 2007 found that this number is increasing.[9][10]

Lack of access to public restrooms[edit]

Per the National Alliance to End Homelessness[11], in January 2017, there were a total of 553,742 homeless people accounted for across the United States, including territories. Of those accounted for, 192,875 of them were unsheltered and “lived in a place not meant for human habitation, such as the street or an abandoned building”. Many unsheltered homeless camps are located in industrial districts and along highways, far away from public parks facilities where traditional public bathrooms are located. If local municipalities do not provide bathroom access, the homeless are left to urinate and defecate in the streets and waterways near their camps. Robinson and Sickels with the University of Colorado Denver [12] released a report highlighting the criminalization of homelessness across the State of Colorado. During their research, they found that 83% of the people they interviewed were denied bathroom access because they were homeless. Without access to public bathrooms, unsheltered homeless populations across the country are living in third world conditions. This, in turn, leads to public health concerns such as the hepatitis A outbreak seen in California. As reported by Dr. Kushel with The New England Journal of Medicine[13], in 2017 alone 649 people in California were infected with hepatitis A; this outbreak began in the homeless population. If we fail to consider the true cost of denying the homeless bathroom access, we put our communities at risk and leave an entire group of people to live as second-class citizens without basic first world amenities.

Advocacy and awareness[edit]

National Alliance to End Homelessness[edit]

The National Alliance to End Homelessness offers an organized spread of homeless issues and solutions while providing means of donation and support. President Nan Roman expresses that in her opinion, "People will always have problems and crises. But in a nation as wealthy as ours, where human life is valued, widespread homelessness need not—and SHOULD not—exist."[14]

National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week[edit]

The National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week is held every year the week before Thanksgiving to raise awareness of issues relating to hunger and homelessness in communities.[15] The charity offers guidelines and educational tools that encourage the public to get involved. Participants are encouraged to share thanks and help fellow community members in times of need.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Criminalizing Crisis: The Criminalization of Homelessness in U.S. Cities (Report). National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty. November 2011. Archived from the original on 2017-09-14. Retrieved 2014-04-30.
  2. ^ "Britain: Where have all the homeless gone?". The Economist. 372 (8388): 21–49.
  3. ^ Out of Sight - Out of Mind?. National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty. 1999. p. 90. ISBN 978-0-7881-8276-1.
  4. ^ France, Anatole (1894). "VII". Le lys rouge (in French). Ils y doivent travailler devant la majestueuse égalité des lois, qui interdit au riche comme au pauvre de coucher sous les ponts
  5. ^ a b A Dream Denied: The Criminalization of Homelessness in U.S. Cities (PDF) (Report). National Coalition for the Homeless. January 2006.
  6. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2007-02-03. Retrieved 2008-10-25.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  7. ^ Meinbresse, M; Brinkley-Rubinstein, L; Grassette, A; Benson, J; Hamilton, R; Malott, M; Jenkins, D (2014). "Exploring the Experiences of Violence Among Individuals Who Are Homeless Using a Consumer-Led Approach". Violence & Victims. 29 (1): 122–136. doi:10.1891/0886-6708.vv-d-12-00069. PMID 24672998.
  8. ^ Fantz, Ashley (February 20, 2007). "Teen 'sport killings' of homeless on the rise". CNN.
  9. ^ Lewan, Todd (April 8, 2007). "Unprovoked Beatings of Homeless Soaring". USA Today. Associated Press.
  10. ^ National Coalition for the Homeless, Hate, "Violence, and Death on Main Street USA: A report on Hate Crimes and Violence Against People Experiencing Homelessness, 2006" Archived April 3, 2007, at the Wayback Machine, February 2007.
  11. ^ National Alliance to End Homelessness. (2018). State of homelessness. National Alliance to End Homelessness, retrieved from https://endhomelessness.org/homelessness-in-america/homelessness-statistics/state-of-homelessness-report/
  12. ^ Robinson and Sickels (2015). No right to rest criminalizing homelessness in Colorado. University of Colorado Denver and Denver Homeless Outloud, retrieved from http://www.cpr.org/sites/default/files/homelessness-study.pdf
  13. ^ Dr. Kushel, M. (2018). Hepatitis A outbreak in California – addressing the root cause. The New England Journal of Medicine, retrieved from https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp1714134
  14. ^ "Message from the President". National Alliance to End Homelessness. Retrieved October 26, 2015.
  15. ^ a b "National Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week". National Coalition for the Homeless. Retrieved October 26, 2015.