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A Dream Denied: The Criminalization of Homelessness in U.S. Cities


For the past 25 years, cities have increasingly implemented laws and policies that target homeless persons living in public spaces. 

This trend began with cities passing laws making it illegal to sleep in public spaces or conducting “sweeps” of areas where homeless people were living.

In many cities, more neutral laws, such as open container or loitering laws, have been selectively enforced for years.  Other measures that cities have pursued over the past couple decades include anti-panhandling laws, laws regulating sitting on the sidewalk, and numerous other measures.


In some cities where a variety of “status” ordinances have resulted in large numbers of arrests, “habitual offenders” are given longer jail terms and classified as criminals in shelters and other service agencies because of their records.


Unfortunately, over the years, cities have increasingly pursued these measures and expanded their strategies to target homeless people, using vague “disorderly conduct” citations to discourage homeless people from moving freely in public. 

During the past year, cities have increasingly focused on restrictions to panhandling and public feedings.  These restrictions only create additional barriers for people trying to move beyond homelessness and poverty.
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