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Homelessness is a reality which ostracizes the undesirable elements from the society and puts a boundary between common citizens and poor people deprived of decent housing. The build-up effect of poverty influences various aspects of the life of the homeless such as income, profession, family, education, human dignity, and prevents these destitute people from escaping the vicious circle. Moreover, the psychological burden of realizing that poverty is a deadfall which may never come to an end makes them desperate. The social phenomenon of homelessness is usually condemned by citizens and addressed by governments and communities. However, despite considerable efforts, the manifestations of this phenomenon persist throughout the world, and no country has successfully solved the problem. The recent anti-camping, anti-loitering, and anti-sitting/lying down laws have raised essential controversies about their actual intention. The question is whether they actually target the homeless as a social group, and have any underlying intention of discriminating against ethnicity, whether the actual intention matches the existing practice, and whether the anti-homelessness laws have a positive outcome.
Anti-camping laws that were passed in some American states as ordinances have been essentially criticized. The opponents argue that these regulations provide selective and discriminatory enforcement that targets the homeless population, while the proponents emphasize the effect of making city streets civilized and clean. Looking back into history, anti-homeless laws served as the pretext and discriminated against ethnic minorities, like African Americans, after the slavery abolishment. Thus, Blackmon argues that anti-vagrancy laws addressed the issue of homeless ethnic minorities (1). According to Blackmon, the anti-vagrancy law was only a pretext for detaining African Americans who freely moved and had no “patron” (7). Blackmon’s “industrial slavery” (38) can be compared to today’s trend of “corporate slavery”, a social phenomenon of hard work for people who have to make a living. While in the first half of the twentieth century industrial slaves were predominantly African Americans, who did not have money to pay the fines, and therefore were sentenced to prison and, eventually, to labor, corporate slaves are not determined by ethnicity, gender or age. This group of social slaves consists of the citizens who avoid any confrontation with employers or authorities in the face of poverty and homelessness.
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The question is whether current sit/lie ordinances, anti-camping and anti-loitering laws could be considered as a pretext for criminalizing the homeless, and whether there are any other intentions behind these laws. The anti-camping law passed in Portland, Oregon, indicates that “it is unlawful for any person to camp in or upon any public property or public right of way” (Portland Policy Documents). The prosecution would imply a fine of up to 100 US dollars or imprisonment for up to 30 days (Portland Policy Documents). Since one of the reasons for the vast majority of homeless people for sleeping outside is the absence of money, they are more likely to be imprisoned. Therefore, citizens, whose problem is homelessness as a result of poverty, are subject to discrimination in this case. The economic factor is the key. Thus, there is no indication that ethnicity is involved in decision-making concerning prosecution.
Homeless people are the citizens completely deprived of proper housing and shelter unless they can rely on municipal lodging houses. Anti-sitting and lying down laws in the U.S. can be regarded as unconstitutional. They are closely related to anti-camping laws, and imply the ban for sitting or lying on the sidewalk or within other public areas.
The prosecution of people sitting or lying outside results in their temporary removal from the streets but does not provide any viable solution to the problem of homelessness. Therefore, the law does not target eliminating homelessness as a social phenomenon. The intention of the anti-homeless laws should be the central issue in identifying whether the law can be considered constitutional, whether it matches practice, and what its intention and outcomes are. The major argument against sit-lie ordinances is that they stigmatize and criminalize the poor and the homeless. Criminalization of homelessness stigmatizes people in tough life situations. The homeless virtually have no choice but to become criminals when states introduce sit-lie ordinances. The homeless cannot control the compliance with this requirement for at least two reasons: natural and social. Firstly, humans cannot do without sleep by nature, so the homeless need sleep wherever it may be. By sleeping on the sidewalk, they violate the ordinances, and are subject to incarceration. Secondly, they have little choice where to sleep, and this restricts them in their desire to comply with the anti-lying regulation.
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At the same time, the statement that anti-camping laws target only the homeless can hardly be considered true. The reasons why a person turns out to be sleeping outside are numerous. These reasons could include health issues when a person suffers from amnesia, financial hardships like the loss of a wallet or card, or social factors such as parent-teenager arguments. Therefore, the anti-sitting/lying down law would criminalize any of these social groups for the violation of the sit-lie ordinance. The only difference is that the homeless citizens would be prosecuted on a regular basis, since their incarceration would not solve the root of the problem – the absence of housing or shelter.
The proponents of sit-lie laws may argue that they target improving the sanitation in the streets. However, the corresponding ordinances already exist, which makes sit-lie regulations definitely anti-homeless. Another argument could be the provision of public safety, but it also fails since such ordinances endanger homeless people in winter, when they can freeze to death or suffer from lack of sanitation.
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These laws can be referred to as anti-homeless, as they aim to extrude this social group from the streets. However, the laws do not provide a real-life solution to maintain the rights of these people. Moreover, they create a boundary between the citizens and the homeless, while the latter still belong to this caste even though they lost their way for some reasons. Therefore, to address this issue, the society has to target those more profound and underlying causes.
Antiloitering Laws and Corporate Slavery
Antiloitering laws imply the prevention of people from being in a public place without a particular aim. In other words, they are not controlled and not subject to any productive activities or activities which are regulated by the state or business. The aim of such laws is to eliminate prostitution, panhandling and other unlawful activities. However, they also target the homeless who do not take part in such activities. The homeless being without a shelter have to be somewhere, and those unemployed would spend their days in public places unless it was prohibited by law. The poor people, currently or permanently unemployed, could also be discriminated by this law. However, to oppose this view, an interesting point was offered by Rector and Sheffield, who statistically prove that poverty does not represent a problem in the United States since people from poor households mostly do not experience shortage of food or housing (“Poverty and Homelessness Are Not Serious Problems in America”). Their poverty implies only lack of income to fully join the consumerist society.
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Indeed, today’s globalization trends move the world towards the same rhetoric of flourishing life through consumerism and boosting production. If the focus is on the global business, which eliminates any boundaries by outsourcing the labor force, then homelessness becomes an obstacle to growing manufacturing and consumption levels. First of all, the homeless people completely fall out of the consumerist society since they do not have sufficient income to afford anything except for basic necessities. Secondly, they represent a group of citizens who could become a part of labor force and contribute to the national economy.
Nevertheless, the financial factor is also essential. Thus, a day in a shelter for a homeless costs three times less than a day of an imprisoned person. Consequently, it is cheaper and more reasonable to create shelters and address the issue of homelessness than criminalize and punish these deprived people (Chou n.p.). Anti-camping and antiloitering laws, as well as sit-lie ordinances, unite under the name of anti-homeless laws, which discriminate against the homeless population. An infamous manifestation of anti-homeless laws is the so-called defensive architecture.
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Defensive Architecture as an Infamous Example of Anti-Homeless Laws
Defensive architecture can be considered an example of intention that matches practice. Anti-homeless spikes in London, Tokyo, and other major cities of the countries demonstrate the desire of authorities and citizens to avoid solving this problem (Andreou n.p.). They only address the implications of poverty and homelessness through exclusion and bans. Defensive design excludes homeless people from the social group of citizens, and the latter believe that defensive architecture would protect them from the vision of the homeless and interaction with them. The answer to the question “why common citizens despise and avoid the homeless?” is fear and realization that poverty is near. Any person can become insolvent, so citizens prefer not to see that evidence daily. Defensive designs such as spikes, benches with armrests, and other features prevent the homeless from sleeping outside, keeping their things, thus ensuring compliance with anti-homeless laws (Rosenberger n.p.). Therefore, defensive architecture serves the purpose of implementing anti-homeless laws such as anti-camping and anti-storing items in public places. The intention complies with practice and ensures that citizens do not face the issue of homelessness daily, thus enabling the postponement of the solution to the problem of homelessness.
Consequently, the texts of anti-homeless ordinances do not entail any indication to ethnicity, gender, age or other characteristics. The anti-camping laws strictly prohibit sleeping outside, the anti-loitering laws require citizens to work, and anti-storing items in public places ban keeping things in public settings. Any citizen can fall within the influence of the ordinances. Definitely, the homeless people represent the most vulnerable group, which is actually targeted by these regulations. However, the laws do not demonstrate any pretext for detaining another social group and discrimination by any characteristic, whether by ethnicity, gender, or age. The actual intention matches the existing practice, and the homeless people, who fail to find proper shelter, undergo a threat of fine or incarceration. Despite the seeming absence of any other discrimination aspect of these ordinances except for the homeless, further consideration is needed since the situation may alter with the changes in economic, political, and social realms in corresponding states.