The outrage brigade has struck again.
In London, Property Partners decided to install studs on the ground outside its building and a supermarket in an attempt, the store said, to discourage “anti-social” behavior like smoking outside the building. A spokesman for the Tesco supermarket on Regent Street said that customers felt intimidated by the so-called anti-social people, which was the impetus for the spikes.
However, activists in London and around the world felt that the spikes were instead an anti-homeless measure, and called it “inhumane” and “cruel.” After a change.org petition gathered over 130,000 signatures and a London activist group poured concrete over the spikes, the supermarket announced it would remove the studs and find another solution.
The use of the spikes has caused international uproar, but anti-homeless measures, employed mostly by city and local governments, are nothing new. Here are ten of the most egregious examples – that could also use some international attention.
Arms in the Middle of Benches
The sight is common enough in any major city: benches in open places and parks are a wonderful thing, but some have a pesky third armrest in the middle. This is present to deter people from lying out on the bench and sleeping on it – a method specifically designed to prevent people who don’t have a bed of their own from doing so.
This is another incredibly common law, and most cities still have some sort of anti-loitering ordinance, even after the Supreme Court struck down Chicago’s in 1999 for being impermissibly vague. Though cartoons and movies like to portray these vague “though shall not idle around” laws as ways to prevent young people from causing trouble, anti-loitering legislation is often unevenly enforced against classes of people that the police do not like – especially the homeless.
Establishments playing music that caters to their clientele is nothing new, but in San Francisco, managers of Bill Graham Civic Auditorium went the opposite route. Because they were “frustrated, irritated and out of options” with homeless people sleeping in the park nearby, they projected construction noises on loudspeakers outside their building to keep homeless people from sleeping there between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m..
Bans on “Public Feedings”
In the past few years, a new trend has sprung up: cities have begun to ban the feeding of homeless people in parks. Most notably, Philadelphia instituted this ban in 2012, with Mayor Michael Nutter ludicrously saying that it was actually a plan to care for the poor more broadly. The ban was eventually declared unconstitutional, but as many as 50 other cities still ban public feedings.
Anti-panhandling and Anti-begging Laws
Sometimes, for homeless people, the only way to get money to get by is to just ask people. Yet many cities ban this practice, despite the fact that it such attempts are often overruled as unconstitutional because it violates the First Amendment. Nevertheless, up to 47 percent of cities nationwide prevent panhandling in public areas.
Ordinances that prohibit people from camping is another way that cities can attempt to push the homeless out. Disturbingly, the National Coalition for the Homeless estimates that 35 percent of cities have laws on the books that prohibit camping in public areas. Often, to enforce these laws, city police will sweep areas where homeless are known to sleep and seize what little property these people have.
Bans on Services to the Homeless
In addition to bans on public feedings, governments have also begun to crack down on people who want to help the homeless in other ways. Anthony Cymerys, an elderly barber, offered free haircuts to the homeless in Hartford, Connecticut in the park – until health officials and the police came to stop him. While the mayor granted Cymerys a special exception, the city still bans those who want to offer their services to help others.
Arbitrary Canning Limits
It’s a relatively common practice for the homeless to gather cans and other goods to turn into stores for small amounts of money. However, many grocery stores and other establishments in Manhattan – which are required by law to take no less than 240 items per day per person – don’t feel like allowing some people to cash in.
One grocer said of the requirement, “You can’t sell groceries if you’ve got one of these homeless guys standing in the corner putting dirty cans into the machine.”
Well, at least he’s honest.
Banning Private Food Donations to Homeless
Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is infamous for his nanny-like attempts to get the people of New York to eat better, and, apparently, that also includes the city’s homeless. Even if that means they don’t get to eat. In 2012, Blomberg banned individual food donations to the homeless, saying that the city had no way to regulate the food’s salt and fat content.
As many as 30 percent of United States cities have laws on the books that prevent sitting or lying in public areas, according to National Coalition for the Homeless’ 2009 report. Like with loitering laws, many of these laws are selectively enforced against people who give off the “wrong” kind of vibe; and homeless people are often more heavily targeted.
Anti-homeless measures are nothing new, and are implemented and spread much more by government entities than they are by private businesses. Anti-homeless measures are designed to deter homeless people from gathering so that they move to less populated, less economically well-off areas. Or to arrest them and make their already precarious situation much worse.
Such laws and practices exist simply so that ordinary city citizens do not have to confront the “unsightly” people. But the homeless are those that deserve help, care, and protection, not scorn and disrespect.
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