Criminalizing poverty

A recent op-ed by Barbara Ehrenreich asks, “Is It Now a Crime to Be Poor?” In her engaging style, Ehrenreich tells the story of how a man who is “an ordained minister and does not drink, do drugs or curse in front of ladies” was arrested taken from a homeless shelter and put in jail because there was a warrant out for him for sleeping on a sidewalk. Several cities have made it a crime to give out food to the homeless in public parks. As she explains, we create systems that make it impossible for the poor to advance and then punish them:

The pattern is to curtail financing for services that might help the poor while ramping up law enforcement: starve school and public transportation budgets, then make truancy illegal. Shut down public housing, then make it a crime to be homeless. Be sure to harass street vendors when there are few other opportunities for employment. The experience of the poor, and especially poor minorities, comes to resemble that of a rat in a cage scrambling to avoid erratically administered electric shocks.

We certainly see this how we treat the homeless in our society. A recent report called “Homes Not Handcuffs” highlights the fact that cities across the nation are creating punitive measure against the homeless (e.g. for sitting or sleeping in public places) without providing adequate shelter or places to live. Overall, 4 out of 10 homeless persons in the U.S. are “unsheltered.” In Los Angeles, 8 out of 10 are unsheltered, partly explaining why the report listed the City of Angels as the “meanest city” toward the homeless.

Published by Bill

Social justice advocate and collaborative leader

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