Discrimination Against the Homeless

Discrimination against the homeless

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Discrimination against the homeless often takes the form of laws which prohibit sleeping in public.

Discrimination against the homeless is wide-spread and takes on many forms, ranging from difficulty finding employment or new housing, to criminalization of their activities, to direct physical and verbal abuse.


Violent crime

There have been many violent crimes committed against the homeless. [1] A recent study in 2007 found that this number is increasing.[2][3]

Housing and employment discrimination

Homeless people are often discriminated against when attempting to obtain employment or new housing.

Use of the law to discriminate against the homeless

Use of the law to discriminate against the homeless generally takes on one of four forms: restricting the public areas in which sitting or sleeping are allowed, prohibiting begging, removing the homeless from particular areas, or enforcing laws on the homeless and not on those who are not homeless.[4] 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".[5]

Homeless criminalization in the United States

There is a growing trend in the United States towards criminalizing the state of being homeless.[6] Proponents of this approach believe that punitive measures will deter people from "choosing" to be homeless. 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.[7] Violators of such laws typically incur criminal penalties, which result in fines and/or incarceration. 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." [1]


  1. ^ Fantz, Ashley, "Teen 'sport killings' of homeless on the rise", CNN, February 20, 2007.
  2. ^ Lewan, Todd, "Unprovoked Beatings of Homeless Soaring", Associated Press, April 8, 2007.
  3. ^ 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", February 2007.
  4. ^ Cunningham, Kelly (1999). Out of Sight--Out of Mind?. DIANE Publishing, p.90. ISBN 0788182765. 
  5. ^ 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" 
  6. ^ National Coalition for the Homeless: A Dream Denied.
  7. ^ National Coalition for the Homeless: A Dream Denied.

See also


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