Why do cities respond to homelessness with criminalization?

Invisible People: A new report shows why cities often respond to homelessness with criminalization and punitive punishments. Developed by Community Solutions, a nonprofit housing advocacy group, and researchers from Cornell and Boston University, the report collected survey responses from the mayors of America’s 100 largest cities and found that police departments are largely influential in implementing local homelessness policies.

For example, half of them either do not have city staff dedicated to homeless outreach or rely on their police department for outreach. About three-quarters of police departments with outreach teams, also known as HOTs, formally incorporate police into their outreach efforts instead of relying on social workers or mental health professionals.

For compassion, about one-quarter of mayors placed their city staff dedicated to homelessness in their housing department or a dedicated homelessness agency.

At the same time, the survey found that public pressure to remove encampments is one of the key factors that could “lead cities to pursue more policing-centric policies,” according to the report.

This pressure often comes from complaints lodged by homeowners and businesses about unsheltered homelessness, which “may drive city leaders to focus more on policies such as encampment clearance, fines, and criminal arrests to restrict behaviors associated with homelessness,” the report concluded.

The survey comes at a time when politicians across the country are opting to criminalize homelessness instead of funding evidence-based solutions to the underlying causes of homelessness.

“Overall, police responses to homelessness are overwhelmingly punitive,” Charley Willison, an assistant professor at Cornell University and one of the study’s authors, told Invisible People. “We find this both structurally, in terms of how cities design their responses to homelessness, and systematically when it comes to implementing these policies.”

Read full article: Why do cities respond to homelessness with criminalization

Photo by kayla phaneuf on Unsplash

12 July, 2023
Type of Update:
Updates from our Partners
Alternatives to Criminalisation
Human Rights
Petty Offences
Use of Public Spaces
United States
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Invisible People

The Campaign to Decriminalise Poverty and Status is a coalition of organisations from across the world that advocate for the repeal of laws that target people based on poverty, status or for their activism.


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