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
2. Lawrence, Kansas
3. Little Rock, Arkansas
4. Atlanta, Georgia
5. Las Vegas, Nevada
6. Dallas, Texas
7. Houston, Texas
8. San Juan, Puerto Rico
9. Santa Monica, California
10. Flagstaff, Arizona
11. San Francisco, California
12. Chicago, Illinois
13. San Antonio, Texas
14. New York City, New York
15. Austin, Texas
16. Anchorage, Arkansas
17. Phoenix, Arizona
18. Los Angeles, California
19. St. Louis, Missouri
20. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

More on this story

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