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How Homelessness Became A Crime


A Homeless Woman in San Francisco. Credit: Franco Folini via Flickr

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani made so-called ‘quality of life’ policing a worldwide trend. And while it may have temporarily decreased crime, there are harsh consequences for the thousands of innocent people caught up in the frenzy of arrests.

On this edition, the criminalization of homelessness. If it’s illegal to be on a city’s sidewalks, parks and plazas, where else can people go?

How ‘Quality of Life’ turned Homeless New Yorkers into Criminals

According to the Coalition for the Homeless, nearly 37,000 homeless people sleep in New York City shelters each night.  Their research concludes that the primary cause of homelessness, particularly among families, is lack of affordable housing.  Rents have always been high in New York; but since 1994, so called ‘Quality of Life’ policing, and business friendly development strategies have delivered a one-two punch that means poor New Yorkers have even fewer options for housing, and often find themselves specifically targeted by the law.  Journalist Sam Lewis volunteered with the homeless led group ‘Picture the Homeless’ over the past two years, recording the voices of New Yorkers without a place to live.  Lewis produced this story for Making Contact, about how those without homes are criminalized, and how they’re organizing to change the city’s ways.

San Francisco Bans Sitting or Lying on Sidewalks

San Francisco’s reputation as a home for wayward creatives took a bit hit in November 2010, when voters approved a law which would ban sitting or lying on the sidewalks.  As Making Contact’s Andrew Stelzer reports, the law is not only challenging the identity of the city, but is being criticized as a cruel and ineffective way of dealing with the large homeless population.


Extended interview with Paul Boden

Full Length Interview with Paul Boden, organizer with the Western Regional Advocacy Project, about San Francisco’s Sit-Lie ordinance, & other policies across the country that criminalize the homeless and the poor.

S’bu Zikode of the Shack Dwellers movement in South Africa speaks to U.S. based housing activists:


Neil Smith, Center for Graduate Studies at the City University of New York Geography and Urbanism professor; Carlton Berkeley, Former NYPD Detective and author of ‘What to do if Stopped by the Police’; Genghis Kallid Muhammad, Gene Rice, Elise Lowe, Picture the Homeless members; Protestors opposing New York’s disorderly conduct law; Melvin Williams, Coalition for the Homeless volunteer; Rob Robinson, National Campaign to Restore housing Rights organizer; Barbara Daughtery, homeless New Yorker; Mark Schuylen, former urban planner; Samuel Warber, street musician; Andy Blue, ‘Sidewalks are for People” campaign organizer; George Gascon, San Francisco Police Chief; John Avalos, San Francisco Supervisor; Jen Vandergriff, San Francisco resident; Jason Lean, homeless San Franciscan; Paul Boden, Western Regional Advocacy Project organizer

For More Information

Bryant Park Corporation
New York, NY

Central Park Conservancy
New York, NY

Civil Sidewalks Campaign
New York, NY

Coalition for the Homeless
New York, NY

National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty
Washington, DC

Picture the Homeless
Bronx, NY

Sidewalks are for People
San Francisco, CA

Times Square Alliance
New York, NY

Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP)
San Francisco, CA

Articles and Books:

Homes Not Handcuffs: The Criminalization of Homelessness in U.S. Cities.

NY Police Commissioner responds to WABC-TV quotas investigation

Author: Sabine Blaizin

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