As the number of homeless people increases across the country, more cities and states have passed laws prohibiting living in tents and cars or sleeping in public spaces.
More than 100 jurisdictions have had such prohibitions on the books for years, according to the National Homelessness Law Center. In recent months, high-profile measures have been approved to target homelessness in many cities across the western United States and across entire states.
Federal data shows 582,462 people were homeless in a single night in January 2022. Experts warn that more people will enter homelessness as housing costs rise, as has been the case for decades in cities like New York and much of California.
If visible and unprotected homelessness continues to grow, city leaders will have an easier time enacting measures that advocates say criminalize basic needs such as sleeping and sheltering, Eric said. Tars, legal director of the National Homelessness Law Center, at USA TODAY.
“The danger is that the worse the housing situation gets, the more people we see on the streets, the more these punitive policies will be pushed,” Tars said.
These states and cities have passed laws prohibiting living in tents or sleeping on public property:
Missouri bans sleeping in parks
On January 1, a statewide ban on sleeping on state-owned land went into effect in Missouri, making it a crime to sleep in public spaces such as parks or under bridges.
Experts say Missouri’s law is concerning because it covers the state and adds pressure on top of municipal bans.
It’s wrong to assume homeless people can just leave and go to another state, Tars said.
People have an “assumption” that “homeless people are infinitely mobile and they’ll go somewhere else,” Tars said. “But most people, contrary to this notion of vagrancy and passivity, are homeless in the community where they were once housed.”
The Missouri law also restricts state funding for permanent housing, a model taken from model legislation created by the conservative Cicero Institute, according to Stateline, the information service of Pew Charitable Trusts.
“Taking funding away from housing that has appropriate resources attached to it is devastating, problematic, and perpetuating the problem of homelessness,” said Kathy Connors, executive director of the Gateway180 shelter in St. Louis. She added that homeless people who are displaced from rural areas are forced to seek out temporary services available only in cities, which puts a strain on the system.
Tennessee makes it a crime to live in a tent
In July, Tennessee became the first state to make it a crime to live in a tent or sleep on state land.
Statewide bans have been introduced in recent years by lawmakers in five other states, Pew says.
“Policies like this make homelessness worse,” Tars said, as arrests, jail time and a criminal record pose significant barriers to employment, securing an apartment and getting a job. access to social services.
Portland, Oregon bans tent living
The Portland, Oregon City Council voted in November to approve a plan to ban living in tents and will move people living in encampments to six city-sanctioned mass encampment sites capped at 250 people.
The measure includes plans to build 20,000 more affordable housing units and would eventually require everyone living on the streets to move into shelters, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon sent the Portland City Council a letter warning that the new measure could be illegal. Last month, the civil rights group sued the city of Phoenix over a similar ban, prompting a temporary block by a federal judge.
Recently-elected Oregon Governor Tina Kotek began her term this week by declaring a state of emergency for parts of the state that have seen a dramatic increase in homelessness, including Portland.
Washoe County, Nevada, considering bans
In December, Washoe County commissioners in Nevada voted 3-2 to consider an ordinance prohibiting camping in tents or vehicles and storing personal items in public when causing “significant harm to any person or public area”. Violators could be charged with a misdemeanor or fined $500. In the county, Reno and Sparks already had similar ordinances in place.
In 2021, 25% of homeless youth served by the Eddy House shelter in Reno were living on the streets, CEO Trevor Macaluso told USA TODAY. He added that people displaced by sweeps in Reno and Sparks typically move their encampment elsewhere in the city, rendering the bans ineffective.
Los Angeles bans some homeless tent cities
A city council-approved ban on tent living in certain areas was extended in August 2022 to ban camping within 500 feet of schools and daycares after teachers and parents complained that students could not access nearby sidewalks.
School administrators said the ban was not always enforced by the city and police, according to EdSource, a media outlet covering California education.
More recently, the mayors of Los Angeles and Long Beach and Los Angeles County declared a state of emergency over the homelessness crisis to expedite services to reduce and prevent homelessness.
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