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New Report: Homeless Being Criminalized

by Mary C. Piemonte 

Officals at Chicago Defender Charities feed the homeless in 2010. Photo by Mary C. Piemonte.

Across the country, homeless people are finding that their activities are being considered criminal acts, according to a new report from a Washington D.C.-based advocacy organization.

The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty discovered a “startling trend toward criminalizing basic acts necessary for homeless persons’ survival, including eating and sleeping in public.” An analysis in their report, “Criminalizing Crisis: The Criminalization of Homelessness in America,” shows that poverty is at “record levels,” with as many as 3.5 million people experiencing homelessness annually.

“Cities are continuing to penalize people forced to live on our streets and in public spaces,” the report’s authors concluded. The group surveyed local policies in 234 cities, and learned that 40 percent prohibit sleeping in public places; 33 percent prohibit sitting or lying in public places; 56 percent prohibit loitering in public places; and 53 percent prohibit begging in public places. In 188 cities surveyed for both this report and the Law Center’s 2009 report, there were major increases on prohibitions on homeless people begging or panhandling, sleeping and loitering.

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