New rules restrict the homeless
A tough economy and ever-tightening budgets have combined recently to exacerbate a familiar problem for many city governments — how to deal with the homeless. According to The Associated Press (AP), there has been a marked increase in the number of cities passing ordinances that affect the homeless by restricting certain activities in public places, such as sitting, lying down, sleeping, parking a bicycle or even leaning a bike against a tree.
- In Costa Mesa, Calif., officials passed several new ordinances, including a ban on parking a bike anywhere but on a city bike rack. Many homeless people use bicycles to store and transport their belongings.
- Restrictions at the Newport Beach, Calif., Public Library include bans on parking shopping carts, bikes and “other wheeled vehicles” outside the premises, according to AP. Library staff can also evict someone for having poor hygiene or a strong aroma.
- In Las Vegas, some homeless people used their pets to help them panhandle on the Las Vegas Strip. Last spring, the city passed an curfew for pets on the strip, limiting them to between the hours of 5 a.m. and noon, essentially eliminating the practice.
- Denver made urban camping illegal, while Philadelphia banned feedings in public parks. That ordinance, however, was put on hold after homeless groups sued the city.
Local officials say they are responding to complaints about aggressive panhandling, urinating and other activities that discourage city residents from using public spaces like parks. Officials say tight budgets mean they have fewer resources to provide alternative housing options for the homeless.
Homeless advocates say cities are victimizing people who are already down on their luck, many of whom became homeless because of the financial crisis. They say the many restrictive ordinances — such as banning sitting on a public bench — effectively chase the homeless from one city to another.
“There’s the whole notion of driving while black,” Neil Donovan, executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless, told AP. “Well, this is sitting while homeless.”