More people are being arrested for living on the streets as homelessness rises, says the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (NLCHP) in its latest report,Homes Not Handcuffs. The report details how police in 273 cities nationwide are targeting people who have lost their homes and are forced to seek shelter in public places.
Many cities lack affordable housing, shelter space, and food to meet growing needs in this recession, and the NLCHP reports that cities are responding by arresting people instead of providing more services. Governments in cities like Montgomery, Alabama, are “criminalizing” homelessness and poverty by making it illegal to sleep, sit, or store personal belongings in public spaces and by selectively enforcing jaywalking and other laws against homeless people. In Atlanta, police officers dress as tourists to increase arrests and criminal prosecutions against people for panhandling.
The report documents how police brutality is on the rise. For example, two Los Angeles police officers recently beat and tied down a petite homeless woman, who may have been mentally disabled, for being on the sidewalk too long.
The report makes a number of recommendations for reform directed to the federal Interagency Council on Homelessness, which recently was established by President Obama to develop and implement alternatives to arresting and incarcerating Americans who have lost their homes.