Will handcuffs stop homelessness?
In a recent reflection on the site Invisible People, Robert Davis makes the point that handcuffs will never solve homelessness.
The pandemic proved that we need to rethink housing in the United States. It also showed that many programs designed to address homelessness are rooted in law enforcement rather than social services.
The latest federal data shows that more than 582,000 people experience homelessness on a given night in the U.S., an increase of nearly 3% since 2019. However, the number of families with children experiencing homelessness and the number of people experiencing unsheltered homelessness have both increased by greater than 10% over the same time.
As homelessness increased around the U.S. during the Covid-19 pandemic, several states responded by passing laws that criminalize basic acts of survival. These include sharing food in public spaces, lying down, and camping on public property.
Over the next six months, The National Coalition for the Homeless, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., will visit cities nationwide where homelessness is a critical issue, such as Los Angeles, Denver, and Boston. The 2023 Local Power Tour plans to address local leaders and grassroots organizations about the need to build more affordable housing and safe shelter space instead of passing laws that criminalize homelessness.
He writes of the importance of changing the narrative.
“We have to change the narrative back to a place where people see homeless people as people who are very similar to themselves and not some sort of moral failure,” Donald Whitehead, Jr., the coalition’s executive director, told Invisible People in an interview. “We have to think about our unhoused neighbors in a way that allows us to be a community of collective goodwill.”
“We are trying to organize people so we can actually get some changes,” Whitehead said. “We have never had the resources to address the extent of this issue. Our resources have always been myopic. We want to move away from myopic.”
In his article he offers some interesting insights about groups that are aggressively fostering the criminalization approach.
What can you do
Tell your representatives you support revamping how your city addresses homelessness. Handcuffs do not get anyone closer to stable housing. Instead, we must focus on compassionate solutions, the first step to ending homelessness.
You can also visit the Invisible People site to further educate yourself on the issue of the “Criminalization of Homeless.”
Robert is a freelance journalist based in Colorado who covers housing, police, and local government.