The February 2006 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee


National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website



In this issue:

Top 20 Meanest Cities in U.S.

Hate Crimes in Fort Lauderdale

Classism in the Stacks: Libraries and Poor People

Housing Authority's Kafka-Style Interrogation

Bay Area Transit: Separate and Unequal

Lawsuit on Behalf of East Bay Bus Riders

MLK Would Tell Congress to Value Workers

Art, Music for Homeless Kids

Mercy: A Story

The Birdman of Berkeley

Resisting Unjust Corporate Power

President Bush Speaks His Mind

Street Spirit Poetry


January 2006

November 2005

October 2005

September 2005

August 2005

July 2005

June 2005

May 2005

April 2005

March 2005

February 2005

Street Spirit is published by American Friends Service Committee.

All works are copyrighted by the authors.

The views expressed in Street Spirit are those of the individual authors alone, and not necessarily that of the American Friends Service Committee.

A Dream Denied

The Top 20 Meanest U.S. Cities Practice Police Repression Against the Poorest of the Poor

A report on the criminalization of poverty by the National Coalition for the Homeless and National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty

Another homeless woman is made to feel like a criminal by the police. Photo courtesy of

Due to anti-homeless laws and police repression, San Francisco, Santa Monica and Los Angeles are named among the nation's 20 meanest cities.

For the past 25 years, U.S. 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 and conducting police 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.

Cities have also passed 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 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.

20 Meanest Cities in the United States

While most cities throughout the country have either laws or practices that criminalize homeless persons, some city practices or laws have stood out as more egregious than others in their attempt to criminalize homelessness. The National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty have chosen the following top 20 meanest cities in 2005 based on the following criteria: the number of anti-homeless laws in the city, the enforcement of those laws and severities of penalties, the general political climate toward homeless people in the city, local advocate support for the meanest designation, the city's history of criminalization measures, and the existence of pending or recently enacted criminalization legislation in the city.

#1 Sarasota, Florida

In February 2005, the Sarasota City Commission unanimously approved an ordinance prohibiting "lodging out of doors." The previous no-camping rule was ruled unconstitutional by a state court last year because it was too vague and punished innocent conduct. The new rule prohibited using any public or private property for "lodging" outdoors without permission from the property owner.

Like its predecessor, this ordinance was short-lived. In June 2005, a state court found the "no lodging law" unconstitutional. County Judge David L. Denkin said the ordinance gave police officers too much discretion in deciding who is a threat to public health and safety, and who is just taking a nap on the beach.

City commissioners have long insisted that the ordinances are about protecting people, but the ordinance has been used to arrest homeless persons. Assistant Public Defender Chris Cosden believes the city should give up: "The city has tried twice, and failed twice [with its ordinances]. The city has to step back and realize there are some things you just can't do."

Nonetheless, in August 2005, city commissioners passed yet another ordinance, strangely similar to the previous two that were ruled unconstitutional. The new ordinance makes it a crime to sleep without permission on city or private property, either in a tent or makeshift shelter, or while on top of "or covered by materials."

The city commissioners invented a list of criteria to determine if a person violates the new law. Homeless people can be arrested under the law if "numerous items of personal belongings are present," or they are cooking, or when "the person is asleep and when awakened states that he or she has no other place to live."

Advocates are shocked that the ordinance actually includes being homeless, or having "no other place to live" as itself a criterion for arrest. They argue that this ordinance, like its predecessors, targets homeless people. The new law has been challenged in state court by defendants who were charged under the law. The court upheld the law, finding it constitutional.

#2 Lawrence, Kansas

In July 2005, city commissioners approved three "civility" ordinances, responding to concerns from downtown merchants about aggressive panhandlers. However, in a more positive step, they rejected an anti-camping law in spite of neighbors' concerns about homeless camps along the Kansas River.

Commissioners approved ordinances that would prohibit panhandlers from asking for money in an aggressive way, make it illegal for people to trespass on rooftops, and limit how people could sleep or sit on city sidewalks. The anti-panhandling ordinance will ban aggressive panhandling or soliciting within 20 feet of an automatic teller machine or a bus stop or from anyone in a vehicle.

Yet, Kalila Dalton, a member of Kansas Mutual Aid, views panhandling as a logical response to a basic need: "If it is cold outside and if you have no warm place, it seems reasonable to build a fire. If you have no money, it seems reasonable to ask someone who appears well off for money."

This ordinance was approved on a 3-2 vote, with Commissioner Mike Rundle and Councilman Highberger opposing. Highberger said he thought the ordinance simply addressed "things that people didn't want to look at," rather than genuine public safety concerns.
A few businesses also proposed cutting social services, arguing "We didn't have this problem until we had a handout on every corner." Shelters were viewed as hurting downtown Lawrence's image rather than providing invaluable and scarce services to homeless people.

Loring Henderson, Open Shelter's director, disagrees, stating that "it doesn't seem logical to me that when you have a place where there are 21 people who have a place to stay for the night, rather than being on the streets, that you're contributing to the problem."

At a January 2005 meeting of the Task Force on Homeless Services, downtown business owners proposed that homeless service providers require people who want to use shelters, soup kitchens, and other services to obtain an official identification badge. The badges would require people to go through an application process and a police background check. This would give police and service providers a way to punish people by denying certain services over a specific period of time.

#3 Little Rock, Arkansas

Saint Francis House, the only daytime homeless shelter, and the only place where homeless people could wash their clothes, closed in 2005 after a long history of police harassment of homeless people using that facility, as well as a withdrawal of funds for its operation.

Sharon Priest, a spokesperson for the Downtown Partnership, said she was "glad" Saint Francis House was gone, but was still not satisfied, because of "that soup kitchen [Stewpot] which is right there."

Other reports compiled by Hunger-Free Arkansas indicate the criminalization of homeless men and women throughout the city. In a case of illegal search and seizure, a state trooper illegally searched and detained a homeless man, by claiming he suspected the homeless man was dealing drugs. The state trooper arrested the individual, who spent the night in jail and missed work the next day. The homeless man had no record of any drug-related offenses. Due to the arrest, the homeless man was suspended from work for 30 days and taunted by employees for having to spend the night in jail.

Two homeless men reported officers of the Little Rock Police Department had kicked them out of the Little Rock Bus Station. Both men were holding valid tickets and transfers. Despite showing the police their tickets, both men were told that although the buses they were awaiting would arrive within 30 minutes, they could not wait on the premises because they were loitering. The police subsequently evicted the men. In some instances, others have been told that they could not wait at the bus station "because you are homeless."

In the summer of 2005, a free public event was held at Riverfront Park in Little Rock, at which businesses set up booths and tents to give away free samples of their merchandise to the public. Vendors encouraged homeless persons at the event to take free samples, which many homeless people gratefully did.

However, officers of the Pulaski County Sheriff's Department told the homeless individuals, including a handicapped man at a picnic table, that they had to leave the event immediately or be subject to arrest for loitering in a park.

#4 Atlanta, Georgia

Amid waves of public protest and testimony opposing the Atlanta City Council's proposed comprehensive ban on panhandling, the City passed a ban in August 2005 that made panhandling illegal within the "tourist triangle" and anywhere after dark. The ordinance also prohibits panhandling within 15 feet of an ATM, bus stop, taxi stand, pay phone, public toilet, or train station anywhere in the city.

Many opponents believe the ban outlaws panhandling virtually everywhere, rendering it unconstitutional. The new ordinance also states that anyone who asks for help, both monetary and nonmonetary, can be detained until an outreach worker either evaluates the detainee or refers him/her to social services.

Two days after the signing of the bill, the Atlanta Police Department announced that homeless people would be rounded up for entry into Atlanta's new facility called The Gateway, which provides 250 shelter beds and supportive housing. The Gateway, the recipient of $10 million in private and public funds, was developed to provide a constructive solution to coincide with the panhandling ban.

Unfortunately, although The Gateway houses homeless people, there is an overall net loss of places to sleep in Atlanta; 125 emergency beds for women and children were closed by the mayor in May 2005. Up to 80 of those women and children now sit up all night, waiting for shelter at the Task Force for the Homeless.

The business community and the city administration claim that many homeless people are "service-resistant" and should be forced to receive the services they need. However, more than half the current requests for shelter and services in Atlanta go unmet because of insufficient resources. Most shelters and support service agencies report turning away dozens of desperate people daily.

"This ordinance affects a huge population of the poor and homeless who just ask for help to eat every day," said Murphy Davis of the Open Door Community. "We do not need a blanket law for one person asking another person for help."

According to Anita Beaty of the Task Force for the Homeless, "Atlanta planners seem to believe that if you remove people's housing, eliminate emergency shelter that they will then need, and then make asking for help illegal, their necessary support services available only through an incarceration program, the poor people will go someplace else."

#5 Las Vegas, Nevada

Las Vegas police conduct habitual sweeps of encampments, which lead to extended jail time for repeat misdemeanor offenders. Homeless inhabitants of a campsite on Owens Avenue were forced to vacate the area just before Christmas 2004. Many social service providers were caught off guard by the notice, wishing the city had informed them before the sweep to ensure they could find places for homeless men and women to stay. Former residents of the campsite worried about finding a bed in one of the shelters because most of them are reserved for older men and women.

Despite reports that city, county, and state agencies were working together to provide housing for homeless persons displaced by a January 2005 sweep of a downtown bridge, only 45 people out of 150 residents of the camp were placed in temporary housing. Transportation crews threw away inhabitants' possessions, including tents, blankets, and family photos.

City officials' attempts to break up another homeless camp in February 2005 was met with criticism by local homeless advocates, who argued that breaking up the camp would only create another camp elsewhere. They also noted that homeless people need treatment, supportive services, and permanent housing, all of which are not available.

Frank Wright Plaza, a small park across from City Hall, was a favorite daytime spot for homeless people seeking a place to nap. Regular visitors to the park said that it is a safe and comfortable place to recover from a tough night on the streets. However, city officials saw the park as a public nuisance, and assigned marshals to patrol the area several times daily.

In order to keep homeless individuals out of future parks, the city considered privatizing the parks, enabling owners to kick out unwanted people. Mayor Oscar Goodman fervently supported the idea, saying, "I don't want them there. They're not going to be there. I'm not going to let it happen. They think I'm mean now; wait until the homeless try to go over there."

#6 Dallas, Texas

Officials attempted to address the growing homeless population by making it illegal to take a shopping cart off store property. Instead of acknowledging the root causes of homelessness, the new law only spurred homeless people to become more creative. Fleets of damaged baby strollers and shopping carts are now common in the area.

The Dallas Homeless Neighborhood Association investigated sweeps that occurred in December 2004. A positive result of its investigation was that Interim City Manager Mary Suhm vowed to replace the personal property, including blankets, identification, and medication, that the city officials confiscated during those sweeps. Suhm also promised to provide oral or written notices at least 24 hours in advance of sweeps, giving homeless people time to relocate.

In an attempt to gain more federal aid for homeless services, volunteer canvassers surveyed and counted homeless people in the Dallas area. Volunteers accompanied by the police walked the streets to gain knowledge and "humanize the condition of homelessness." The count itself was not an attempt to chase people from their shelters, but the police and transportation crews later evicted dozens of homeless people from their encampments.

One of Dallas' most elaborate homeless camps, with cardboard shacks, tents, portapotties and a microwave powered by electricity tapped from a billboard, was raided in May 2005. The city bulldozed the camp several times before, but the inhabitants kept rebuilding their homes.

City officials hoped that demolition would give the residents an incentive to seek help for their drug and alcohol addictions, as well as mental illnesses. James Waghorne, a formerly homeless social worker, disagrees with the city's logic, saying "more residents may seek help if the city offered a higher level of services instead of driving people from the only homes they know."

Starting in September 2005, a new ordinance penalized charities, churches and other organizations that serve food to the needy outside of city-designated areas. Anyone who violates this ordinance can be fined up to $2000. Romano's Hunger Busters pledges to feed homeless people "wherever they are," and will violate the new ordinance.

Currently, the city is considering Mayor Laura Miller's suggestion to ticket people who donate to panhandlers, because a blanket ban on panhandling has proved largely ineffective since its inception two years ago.

#7 Houston, Texas

A coalition of businesses and residents, called the Avondale Association, is petitioning city officials to protect the near-downtown neighborhood from homeless persons by using a so-called "civility ordinance" passed by the Houston City Council in late 2004. The ordinance prohibits people from sitting or lying on sidewalks between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m., as well as placing items of bedding or personal possessions on the sidewalk.

The Coalition for the Homeless of Houston/Harris County believes the civility ordinance is ineffective and mean-spirited. "This is just more or less shuffling people around [and we] do not support any laws that somewhat outlaw or consider homelessness a crime," said Anthony Love of the Coalition for the Homeless. Love also argues that "blaming service providers for an increase in homelessness is like blaming hospitals for an increase of sick people. If service providers weren't there, the problem would be worse."

Citing a need to "reflect changes in society," the Houston City Council also passed new regulations under which patrons with offensive bodily hygiene that constitutes a nuisance to others will not be allowed inside the library. These laws also prohibit people from sleeping or putting their head, feet or legs on tables, using library restrooms to change their clothes, bathe, or shave, as well as outlawing large backpacks and blankets in the building.

In opposition to the new laws, City Councilwoman Addie Wiseman noted, "When we have heat waves, they encourage people, including homeless [people], to go into public buildings, including our libraries. What is the plan now?" She added, "I understand what they're trying to do but when you start targeting a community like the homeless [population], I think that's a poor policy."

#8 San Juan, Puerto Rico

Cieni Rodriguez, Executive Director of La Fondita de Jesus, said, "It is ironic how frequently city officials publicly say how they are working on behalf of the homeless population, while at the same time they are supporting the passage of new legislation that further countermands civil liberties. Anti-constitutional laws that, if passed, would permit the governments [central and municipal] to intervene with a person's liberty by transporting them somewhere else against their will."

Osvaldo Burgos, Executive Director of the Commission for Civil Rights stated, "There has been an alarming increase in city ordinances and city codes designed at targeting homeless [people]." A recent study by the commission revealed that over half of Puerto Rico's 78 municipalities have passed anti-homeless ordinances into laws.

Sweeps of homeless people are also becoming commonplace in Puerto Rico. At least five homeless deaths have been attributed to these sweeps. Homeless people have also reported being victims of police violence and intimidation. One man reported that he has frequently been a victim of police violence, including being assaulted with nightsticks and pepper-sprayed for the fun of it and having his bicycle tires slashed while being mocked by police.

#9 Santa Monica, California

Under a new proposal soon to be floated by City Councilmember Bob Holbrook, city groups that provide meals to homeless people in parks may be fined for clean-up costs. Food providers may be required to pick up the yearly estimated tab of $40,000 that Santa Monica spends annually providing park rangers and a cleaning service after meals.

Moira LaMountain, co-founder of Helping Other People Eat, has been feeding homeless people in Palisades Park for over 13 years. She fears that going after the food providers' pocketbooks could cause nonprofit groups to stop providing food to those who need it. She also contends that they leave the park cleaner than when they arrive each day, and that there is no need for park ranger supervision.

An earlier ordinance, enacted in 2002, reduced outdoor feeding locations from 26 to 4, and banned feeding more than 150 homeless persons without a permit, because some officials believed food providers were exacerbating the homeless problem by handing out free meals. Laws in Santa Monica already attempt to ban all outdoor meals from groups, like Food Not Bombs, which serve up to half of the city's 1,000 homeless people. Another notorious law literally bans even the giving of a cookie to any member of the "public" without a city permit.

Recently, with the election of Bobby Shriver to the City Council, homeless people in Santa Monica are facing what may be the single biggest push in the nation to pass a massive wave of new anti-homeless laws. The proposed laws would make it illegal for any homeless person to set down a backpack for more than ten minutes on any sidewalk, lie or sit on any sidewalk in the city, shave, bathe, wash clothing items in any public restrooms, and sleep anywhere in a vehicle. The laws would also sweep homeless individuals from all freeway sides and ramps.

Also, anti-homeless forces are proposing to close all showers that open before 6 a.m., many of which serve homeless men and women who work. Santa Monica Memorial Park Gym Director John Hines estimates that nearly 50 homeless people shower at the park, many before work. The City cites complaints and growth of sports activities at the park as their reasons to close the facilities. Furthermore, they propose that the Santa Monica police transport anyone found intoxicated in the city to a new "sobriety center" five miles out of town in Culver City.

#10 Flagstaff, Arizona

Soon anyone camping or sleeping in a car or in public within the Flagstaff city limits may be subject to trespassing and camping violations, totaling up to $2,500 in fines and six months in jail time. The current ordinance's wording only allows prosecution of people arrested in city parks.

City Attorney Patricia Boomsma supports the new, stricter ordinance, because "prosecutors need to prosecute the person actually doing the camping." The proposed ordinance aims to eliminate litter, human waste, and illicit campfires. According to Flagstaff chief of police, J.T. McCann, the ordinance is intended to promote public safety.

However, local service providers, such as Stephanie Boardman of Hope Cottage, believe these ordinances are counterproductive, especially to the domestic violence victims that Hope Cottage takes in. Boardman said, "A lot of them are embarrassed to go to shelters. They just want their freedom. You penalize the people in crisis because 10, 15, 20 people are really causing an upheaval."

#11 San Francisco, California

After responding to complaints of homeless people loitering outside the San Francisco Public Library, the police decided to provide homeless individuals, unhappy living in the city, with one-way bus tickets. The plan would "reunite them with loved ones for the holidays." The Police Department recommended coordination with the bus companies and local businesses to fund tickets. The Department of Human Services offers bus tickets to anywhere in the continental U.S. if the recipient has housing or a job to go to.

L.S. Wilson, organizer for the Coalition on Homelessness, believed that such a plan would only give the police an opportunity to harass homeless people. "If they need a one-way ticket out of here and they can get it, good, but it's saying they can't come back. It's another PR thing: Just try to hide or get rid of our homeless problem."

Under Mayor Gavin Newsom's "Care not Cash" ballot initiative, panhandlers who are supposed to be getting services are sometimes going to jail instead. Instead of Care not Cash, San Francisco panhandlers are receiving citations, which are translating into jail time. In his argument for Proposition M in August 2003, Newsom wrote, "Prop. M seeks to divert people who aggressively panhandle because of addiction or illness away from the jail system and into the public health system."

However, this is not the case, as arrested panhandlers spend the time before their court date in jail instead of in service programs. Under Prop. M, panhandling and solicitation are prohibited near ATM machines, in parking lots, public transit, median strips and freeway onramps.

Proposition M gives the Department of Public Health the mandate to "establish, administer and/or certify diversion programs appropriate for treatment of violators." Nonetheless, "people are going to jail because there aren't enough services for everyone that needs them." Critics contend that this process of racking up citation convictions does not help homeless people get services. Since Mayor Newsom took office in 2003, the number of camping citations among the homeless population has nearly tripled.

#12 Chicago, Illinois

In September 2004, the City Council unanimously passed an ordinance that prohibits panhandling within 10 feet of a bus stop, ATM, or bank entrance, at sidewalk cafes and restaurants, and fines panhandlers $50 for first and second offenses and $100 for each additional offense in the same year. Chicago modified its criteria after a 2002 ordinance banning all panhandling was challenged in a class-action lawsuit, which resulted in a $474,000 settlement for the plaintiffs, as well as a repeal of the law.

However, many advocates, including Julie Dworkin of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, believe the new ordinance does not provide a solution either. She argues, "If you ticket them, they are not going to have money to pay the ticket. So, you haven't solved the problem. People are panhandling out of great need. To get rid of panhandling, you must deal with the issue of homelessness."

Amy Bishop, a downtown worker, believes that "you can't legislate away all the things you don't want in a city," demonstrating that even some business owners are skeptical of Chicago's second attempt in two years to curb panhandling. The initial attempt was repealed after a class action lawsuit was filed on the grounds that the ordinance violated panhandlers' civil rights. Even the police chief who suggested the strict ordinances recognizes that they will not completely dispel panhandling.

Homeless activist John Maki said, "Once people believe that panhandlers represent all homeless [people], it is very difficult to engage them in productive conversation about the reality and causes of homelessness. Too often, such encounters devolve into debates for and against panhandling, which then easily play into the stereotypes and fears many people have."

#13 San Antonio, Texas

After San Antonio passed new ordinances targeting aggressive panhandling, sleeping in public, urinating in public, and camping without a license (including sleeping in vehicles), many homeless people complained that the City Council was persecuting them. These violations are misdemeanors and carry up to $500 fines.

However, City Councilmember Roger Perez said that these laws would be applied to everyone equally because they target behaviors rather than people. According to Councilmember Patti Radle, 400 people have been cited for illegally sleeping on sidewalks or "urban camping" and 82 people have been cited for urination on sidewalks since these activities were criminalized earlier this year.

Reverend John Flowers of Travis Park United Methodist Church said that the ordinance presents a justice issue because of the lack of public restrooms and shelter space downtown, stating, "If we're going to tell people you can't do this in public, then we need to provide them options."

Instead of spending money on enforcement, the city could use it to strike at the root causes of homelessness. Rev. Flowers and other advocates argued that the city has an obligation to provide better facilities for homeless people before cracking down on their activities.

Texas homeless advocate Richard Troxell noted, "As long as people are forced to live on the streets of America due to the lack of affordable housing, adequate health care and livable incomes, we cannot allow their condition to be criminalized. The same things that these people are being targeted, fined, and arrested for in public, are found to be acceptable and considered to be the norm when conducted in the privacy of our own homes."

#14 New York, New York

Arrests of homeless individuals in New York City "have skyrocketed in the past few years," totaling 3,086 last year compared with 737 in 2000. The New York City Police Department took aim at minor crimes like unlicensed street peddling and fare-beating on buses in an attempt to deter more serious crimes.

Undercover police officers began riding the M35 bus at night to arrest those who do not pay the $2 fare. Many of the arrested bus riders were on their way to homeless shelters. They could not walk to these shelters because the only footbridge from Manhattan is closed in the late fall and winter.

Five criminal court judges, including Kathryn Freed, questioned the wisdom of the arrests, because they interfered with the services the homeless persons were seeking: "I consistently put on the record how outraged I am by the whole thing," Freed said. "It's a complete waste of the court's time. It takes a lot of person-power to process them, house them, and feed them. Meanwhile, the shelter, where they're heading, is set up to do just that."

Shaver, one of the men arrested on a M35 bus, told police, "You're setting me up. They're the easiest victims, the homeless. It's entrapment. Why don't you [the police] go fight some real crime?"

In June 2005, an individual who panhandles filed a suit on behalf of a class of individual panhandlers who had been charged with violations of a New York state law that prohibits begging. The Second Circuit had found the law unconstitutional in the Loper case in 1993. The plaintiffs allege that arrests and prosecutions under the unconstitutional law violate their First Amendment rights.

On June 11, 2005, the day after the suit was filed, the Bronx District Attorney's office admitted that they should not have prosecuted any arrests made under the unconstitutional part of the state penal code and issued a written agreement with the City and the police to stop arresting and prosecuting people under this statute.

#15 Austin, Texas

In December 2005, the Austin City Council passed ordinances that ban panhandling after 7 p.m. in the downtown area, ban panhandling totally near schools, child-care facilities, and outdoor food and drink establishments, and prohibit sleeping, sitting, and lying down in public areas downtown. People violating the no sleeping/sitting ordinance face a $500 fine. Only one council member, Mayor Pro Tem Danny Thomas, voted against these ordinances. The new ordinances went into effect on Christmas, Dec. 25, 2005.

Richard Troxell, president of House the Homeless, worries about the potential impact of the ordinance on the Austin Advocate, the local newspaper produced by homeless people and sold on the street for donations. He added, "Another ordinance they wish to address is the sidewalk ordinance; what they intend to do is outlaw [all] sleeping or resting on the sidewalk whatsoever."

In July 2005, an Austin municipal court found the City's roadside anti-begging statute unconstitutional, in which panhandling in select roadside locales was illegal. While defending a homeless Austin citizen, who was arrested for carrying a sign that read "Donations of any kind will help," the Texas Civil Rights Project argued the panhandling ordinance violated the First Amendment rights of people experiencing homelessness.

According to Wayne Krause, the goal of these ordinances is to decrease visibility of the homeless. He says, "Officials at the City are very anxious to promote 6th Street and their perception of Austin's tourist image, and they'll sweep the undesirable urban realities out of sight to do it."

#16 Anchorage, Alaska

In Anchorage, camping anywhere, including both government and private property, is considered trespassing. Police have trouble dealing with camp inhabitants; if they move them on, homeless campers will turn up somewhere else.

In April 2005, Ed O'Neill, an advocate who helps maintain homeless camps, wanted to establish a legal homeless camp. The camp would include toilets and garbage facilities, as well as require a small fee for residents to live there. People would not be allowed to drink in a legal, organized camp.

O'Neill works closely with campers, advising them where to move and how to address the police. For him, having people camp in the woods is perfectly fine, as long as they do it right: haul out trash, use proper toilet facilities, do not drink, and do not disturb others.

The City and the Anchorage Downtown Partnership are trying to discourage motorists from giving to panhandlers. The citywide program is titled "Change for the Better" and uses slogans such as "give change in ways that make change." Local businesses and buses sport the signs. The Partnership is urging motorists to give donations to social service agencies rather than panhandlers, because public officials believe voluntary donations to homeless people pay for alcohol or drug addictions.

A 2004 law makes panhandling - or giving to panhandlers from a motor vehicle stopped on a public street - illegal. According to Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, "The idea is to dry up the source of funding so street people will seek help that might let them improve their lives."

#17 Phoenix, Arizona

The Phoenix City Council voted to ban camping in all city parks in order to preserve the parks as "family places" in December 2004. The measure was aimed at keeping homeless people from areas where children and others gather. Even though few of the homeless people caused trouble, "many people are intimidated by the homeless and won't use the park."

Homeless advocates argued that the ordinance would not solve the problem. According to Jeff Taylor of the Phoenix Rescue Mission, "If you close the parks, homeless individuals will gravitate to another area. This will squeeze individuals into other areas where they may be more invisible." The executive director of the Phoenix Rescue Mission, Jerry Sandvig, doesn't see any alternative with such an overwhelming homeless population in Phoenix, saying, "There really isn't any place for them to go."

#18 Los Angeles, California

In February 2005, the L.A. City Council unanimously passed a law that prohibits loitering outside of public facilities, such as libraries, between 9 p.m. and 9 a.m. Six homeless persons filed suit to prevent the L.A. Police Department from ticketing and arresting people who sit, sleep or lie on public sidewalks pursuant to city codes. They argued the codes were in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, as applied to homeless persons.

The plaintiffs argued that homelessness is an involuntary condition, as long as homeless people outnumber the number of available shelter beds. The court rejected the plaintiffs' arguments and granted summary judgment for the City.

In September 2005, the mayor of Los Angeles ordered an investigation into allegations that other jurisdictions were "dumping" homeless people, mentally ill persons, and criminals onto the streets of L.A.'s Skid Row. Skid Row is a 50-block area of downtown Los Angeles containing between 8,000-11,000 homeless people.

A week later, Police Chief William Bratton vowed to get tough and clean up the area he refers to as "Dante's Inferno." His department has conducted sweeps of the area looking for parole violators and strictly enforces "quality of life" statutes such as public urination and sleeping on public sidewalks.

Many believe that the outrage over the "dumping" of homeless people and the increased enforcement are a result of gentrification in the area. "That's why there's a big brouhaha about the 'dumping' now. Five, six, seven years ago there weren't any plans to gentrify Skid Row with condos and lofts that sell for $700,000 or more and a Grand Hotel a few blocks away. The rich simply don't want the homeless to be part of the landscape anymore," commented a local social worker.

#19 St. Louis, Missouri

In October 2005, the City of St. Louis settled a lawsuit filed against it by 25 homeless and impoverished people, claiming they were illegally swept from the downtown area before the Fourth of July festivities. The City paid $80,000 in damages to the plaintiffs. The payment of damages will be shared by the City, the police department and the Downtown Partnership, the defendants in the case.

The plaintiffs claimed that homeless people and those who appeared to be homeless were abused, harassed, and illegally detained in order to clear the city streets before the holiday festivities, and alleged that the defendants have a policy of "intimidating and driving homeless people and homeless-appearing people from downtown St. Louis."

Plaintiffs also alleged that some of them were told they would be released if they performed free community service -- cleaning up after the festivities -- even before they saw a judge. City Counselor Patricia Hageman admitted these accounts were accurate. Attorney for the plaintiffs, Steven Gunn, stated, "This agreement makes it clear that sweeps violate the law and human dignity."

Although the court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in granting a preliminary injunction and the City agreed to the settlement, the City has not admitted any wrong-doing. As a result of the settlement, the police department has agreed to do the following: avoid arresting homeless people or removing them from downtown areas without probable cause that a crime was committed; institute a policy where, under most circumstances, a summons to court will be issued for "quality of life" violations rather than arrest; reaffirm to its officers that an "individual's status (homeless or non-homeless) will not be considered in any of [their] decisions;" and acknowledge begging is not a crime, if it is not "aggressive."

In November 2005, police officers swept a downtown park, instructing homeless people to leave. No arrests were made but park workers removed belongings for temporary storage. The sweeps sparked a protest march from the park to City Hall. Marchers demanded an end to sweeps and more services for homeless people.

#20 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Pittsburgh officials recently expanded its panhandling ordinance by restricting solicitation for charity to daylight hours. The bill also bans panhandling within 25 feet of an outdoor eating establishment, 25 feet of an admission line, 25 feet of the entrance to a religious assembly, 25 feet of money-dispensing areas, and 10 feet of a food vendor or bus stop. The bill also outlaws "aggressive panhandling" and solicitation of money that hinders traffic.

Activist groups, such as the ACLU, believe such a comprehensive ban infringes on free speech rights. The ordinance classifies solicitations from religious groups and other charities as panhandling. According to Major Deborah Sedlar, "If we [the Salvation Army] raise less, that could mean we have less resources to support the services we provide."

Dr. James Withers, a medical doctor and founder of Operation Safety Net, believes that services, rather than laws, are what Pittsburgh's homeless population needs. Dr. Withers said, "The needs of street people are so much more intense than current agencies can grapple with. A lot of people have such complex psychological issues, it's very difficult to get them off the street."

The ordinance stems from complaints from downtown business owners. "Our stakeholders feel that panhandling is becoming a bit more of a problem than it used to be," said Regina Casey of the Downtown Partnership. Police Chief Robert W. McNeilly, Jr. added that crimes, including robbery, retail theft, defiant trespass, simple assault, and disorderly conduct, are "typical" of panhandlers.

However, Officer Charles Bosetti, who patrols the Market Square area, sees it differently. Bosetti maintains that businesses were demanding that police drive "grubby looking" people from the area. Bosetti feels that this is outside of law enforcement's role and should be left to social agencies. "Are you using aggressive police tactics where social solutions are more appropriate?" he asked.

National Coalition for the Homeless
The National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) is a national advocacy organization that exists to educate society in order to identify and put an end to the social and economic causes of homelessness. NCH is the nation's oldest and largest national homelessness advocacy organization, comprised of activists, service providers, and persons who are, or have been, homeless striving toward a single goal -- to end homelessness. For information about our organization, membership, and access to publications, visit our website at

National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty
The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (NLCHP ) is committed to solutions that address the causes of homelessness, not just the symptoms, and works to address homelessness in the larger context of poverty. We engage in impact litigation, policy advocacy, and public education. We also produce investigative reports and provide legal and policy support. You are invited to join the network of attorneys, students, advocates, and activists. For information about our organization, membership, and access to publications, visit our website at

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