"Homes not Handcuffs"
July 14, 2009 10:58 AM   Subscribe

The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty has released a list of the 10 meanest cities in relation to criminalizing homeless. Full report (pdf) available here.

Types of Criminalization Measures measured in the report:

• Enactment and enforcement of legislation that makes it illegal to sleep, sit, or
store personal belongings in public spaces in cities where people are forced to live
in public spaces.

• Selective enforcement of more neutral laws, such as loitering, jaywalking, or open
container laws, against homeless persons.

• Sweeps of city areas in which homeless persons are living to drive them out of
those areas, frequently resulting in the destruction of individuals’ personal
property such as important personal documents and medication.

• Enactment and enforcement of laws that punish people for begging or
panhandling in order to move poor or homeless persons out of a city or downtown
area.

• Enactment and enforcement of laws that restrict groups sharing food with
homeless persons in public spaces.

• Enforcement of a wide range of so-called “quality of life” ordinances related to
public activities and hygiene (i.e. public urination) when no public facilities are
available to people without housing.
posted by lunit (80 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
In northern cities, we let the weather be "mean" for us.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 11:06 AM on July 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


In northern cities, we let the weather be "mean" for us.

Apparently not in kalamazoo.
posted by djduckie at 11:07 AM on July 14, 2009


They nearly all* seem to be in relatively warm places - the kinds of places where if you had to sleep outside in the winter, it would be less likely to kill you. And where homeless people would be more likely to gravitate towards. Is that correlation or coincidence?

Apart from Kalamazoo, which - and I'm only guessing - isn't exactly tropical in mid-winter.
posted by MuffinMan at 11:07 AM on July 14, 2009


Not knowing much about Berkeley, I'm kind of surprised to see it on this list, given it's reputation as a liberal hotbed.
posted by slogger at 11:11 AM on July 14, 2009


Come on down to Matt's house...you can chill if you're homeless!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:11 AM on July 14, 2009


Kalamazoo is the legendary home of the Big Rock Candy Mountain, or so I'm told.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 11:12 AM on July 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


The fact that Berkeley is on there makes me laugh and cry at the same time.
posted by brundlefly at 11:12 AM on July 14, 2009


I met a guy sleeping in the park in Santa Monica. It turned out he was fully employed, making $20+ per hour in the construction business, but absolutely refused to pay $1500 a month for a studio apartment.
posted by mullingitover at 11:12 AM on July 14, 2009 [4 favorites]


Not knowing much about Berkeley, I'm kind of surprised to see it on this list, given it's reputation as a liberal hotbed.

I guess they finally got tired of filthy people panhandling, sleeping and crapping on the streets. Diminishing property values will do that, even to the most bleeding-heart of we liberals.

The solution to the homeless problem isn't homes. It goes WAY beyond that. But we knew that.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:13 AM on July 14, 2009


I'm surprised they didn't put Seattle on the list. Isn't that the city where they criminalized public sitting?
posted by Afroblanco at 11:13 AM on July 14, 2009


I'm simply shocked that three of the top five are in Florida. Just totally blown away.
posted by Caduceus at 11:14 AM on July 14, 2009


I'm simply shocked that three of the top five are in Florida. Just totally blown away.

Why? Florida has the 3rd largest homeless population in the country.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:16 AM on July 14, 2009


I have to say seeing San Fran and Berkeley on the list made me laugh.
posted by The Power Nap at 11:16 AM on July 14, 2009


I have to say seeing San Fran and Berkeley on the list made me laugh.

LOL! Human suffering!

Seriously, though, if NYC had better weather I'm sure we'd be up there.
posted by kathrineg at 11:19 AM on July 14, 2009


Here is NLCHP's analysis of recent homeless statistics released by HUD in their 2008 Homeless Assessment Report (pdf).
posted by lunit at 11:20 AM on July 14, 2009


Seattle ain't all bad to homeless folks. Or rather, they are not as miserable as they could be.
posted by YoBananaBoy at 11:21 AM on July 14, 2009


In my experience, San Francisco is where the meanest homeless people are. At least, in terms of aggressive panhandling and the like.
posted by norm at 11:34 AM on July 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


Aren't San Francisco, Berkeley and LA where all the other states ship their homeless people?
posted by Artw at 11:35 AM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm surprised they didn't put Seattle on the list. Isn't that the city where they criminalized public sitting?

Pretty much any park in the downtown area is wall to wall homeless people publicly sitting.
posted by Artw at 11:37 AM on July 14, 2009



I have to say seeing San Fran and Berkeley on the list made me laugh.
posted by The Power Nap at 7:16 PM on July 14 [+] [!]


Yeah, something seems fishy about this. The measure is only regarding anti-homeless laws in that city. But many "mean" cities dont feel a need to have anti-homeless laws because they are already uninviting places for homeless people to be in the first place. Does that make sense?

In other words, could it be like this?:

City provides lots of support to the homeless
-> City fills with homeless people from other nearby regions
-> City, to avoid, falling into chaos, starts passing legislation
-> City voted as a "mean" city.
posted by vacapinta at 11:37 AM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


I call shenanigans on this list. Obviously if you pick your criteria super carefully - and also don't forget to fudge with how diligent the enforcement is - you can make almost any city any rank.

San Francisco and Berkeley? BS. The social services offered by both outstrip most cities in the nation. Again, by carefully picking your criteria, I'm sure you can make a case for just about anything. I'm outraged that they'd include San Francisco and Berkeley - obviously a publicity stunt.

Now, not saying that homelessness is not a very serious issue - but it deserves much better treatment than these bogus lists which are designed to do not much more than rile people up.
posted by VikingSword at 11:39 AM on July 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


The Philly PD just had a high profile fuck up where an officer shot and killed a homeless man -- the homeless man was coming at him with a knife -- which is unfortunate because the PD has put a lot of effort into working with social workers on the CIT (Crisis Intervention Training) Program that teaches them how to more humanely and effectively intervene in mental health emergencies. The force even gives them little CIT pins to wear on their collars so a social worker on an involuntary commitment call can identify that the officer has been trained. Also, when you make the 302 call you can request a CIT trained officer and if you do they have to send one.
posted by The Straightener at 11:40 AM on July 14, 2009


Florida is the worst place to be homeless or have a criminal record. They have an agenda people trying to make their lives better.
posted by Liquidwolf at 11:44 AM on July 14, 2009


Tell me if this is true or a vicious urban canard --

I've heard that you didn't see massive amounts of homeless people on the street before the Reagan era. Reason being that Regan de-funded a lot of the mental hospitals, forcing them to turn their patients out on the streets.

I wasn't really cognizant before the Reagan era, so I can't really speak to that.
posted by Afroblanco at 11:46 AM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Seattle Public Library: New library a haven for homeless vs new "rules of conduct" policy designed to push out the homeless
posted by Artw at 11:47 AM on July 14, 2009


Afroblanco - that would be the rise of community care, wouldn't it? It worked pretty badly in a country with free healthcare, so I imagine it would have been terrible in the States.
posted by Artw at 11:49 AM on July 14, 2009


I've heard that you didn't see massive amounts of homeless people on the street before the Reagan era. Reason being that Regan de-funded a lot of the mental hospitals, forcing them to turn their patients out on the streets.

True, to a degree. That wasn't the only reason. Other reasons were changes to the laws which allow involuntary confinement and economic and social factors including cost of housing going up drastically, increased hard drug use during that era and so on. So it was a very big factor, but only one of many.
posted by VikingSword at 11:52 AM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


I've heard that you didn't see massive amounts of homeless people on the street before the Reagan era. Reason being that Regan de-funded a lot of the mental hospitals, forcing them to turn their patients out on the streets.

The dismantling of the state hospital systems along with the emergence of crack cocaine bundled with the triple whammy of Reagonomics is credited with creating what we understand today as homelessness, yes. Modern homelessness is different from say Depression era homelessness because even in economic boom times modern homelessness does not dip, whereas the homeless of the Depression era were re-housed and reabsorbed into the labor force when the economy turned around. This alone should be sufficient evidence that modern homelessness is a mental health issue, primarily, and not a work ethic issue.
posted by The Straightener at 11:52 AM on July 14, 2009 [13 favorites]


I'm surprised they didn't put Seattle on the list. Isn't that the city where they criminalized public sitting?

Pretty much any park in the downtown area is wall to wall homeless people publicly sitting.

It criminalizes sitting on the curb or sidewalk, day camping in the park is still 'allowed'.

We have an ongoing protest group that keep camping in places that the city forces them to move from, named after our "let's spend money enforcing laws against sleeping on the streets, while cutting funding for homeless shelters"-mayor, Greg Nickles, called Nicklesville.
posted by nomisxid at 11:53 AM on July 14, 2009


Thanks to Afroblanco for asking - and for the answers Artw, VikingSword and TheSTraightener. I had always heard that re: Regan as well.

Another homeless meme: I have heard some locals (Atlanta) say that the APD is far more likely to enforce loitering laws on bitterly cold nights so the homeless get rounded up to jail and don't freeze. I wonder if that is true or just a feel good story.
posted by pointystick at 11:57 AM on July 14, 2009


I've heard that you didn't see massive amounts of homeless people on the street before the Reagan era. Reason being that Regan de-funded a lot of the mental hospitals, forcing them to turn their patients out on the streets.

It's absolutely true Afroblanco.

But it's more complex than that. It mascaraded as an issue of rights for the mentally ill. Basically many people were in institutions against their will. Forced to take their meds, fed, clothed and housed.

During the Regan era, it was decided to let the Mentally Ill decide for themselves how they wanted be treated, thus many of them decided to leave for the great outdoors.

Inherently, there's a problem in letting mentally ill folks decide these things for themselves. They often won't choose the safe thing, they'll choose the fun-sounding thing. After all, you can't drink in the mental hospital, and many of these folks were self-medicating crazy-people for years before they were locked away--for their own good.

So now, 25 years later, you've got homeless, unmedicated and filthy mentally ill people doing socially unacceptable things out in the open.

Let's not even discuss how terribly the VA is handling the mental afflictions of men and women coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:59 AM on July 14, 2009


Seems like deinstitutionalization in the US predates Reagan.
posted by Artw at 12:00 PM on July 14, 2009


Kind of suprised that this got deleted, or that no-one did a better FPP on it: A Miami law is forcing many of the city's sex offenders to sleep rough under a bridge
posted by Artw at 12:02 PM on July 14, 2009


Most of the examples given - minus sitting on sidewalks - is, if not criminally, then certainly socially unacceptable behaviour and unsanitary and should not be condoned, homeless or not.

I do agree with the Lewin Group study quoted in the report that placing the homeless in supportive housing (aka the projects) is cheaper than placing them in jail. That said, the ones sitting on sidewalks with open containers, publicly urinating and indulging in disorderly conduct are often the ones denied supportive housing because of drug related or mental disorder related issues. So then what? Do tax-paying, law abiding people suffer to preserve the "rights" of the homeless?

And pointystick - DC also enforces loitering laws more stringently on cold nights. Otherwise the massive homeless population here would freeze. However, they turn a blind eye to people sleeping on the heater grates on the sidewalks in the winter whereas in the summer, they arrest them for sleeping/loitering on the sidewalks and don't arrest the ones who sleep in the parks.
posted by gloege at 12:03 PM on July 14, 2009


Ruthless Bunny is correct, the institution system deserved to closed, the only problem was that there was no community mental health movement at that time so the people being evacuated from the institutions, who rightfully didn't want to be there, didn't have anywhere to go. That is, until the homeless shelter system was developed, which is only marginally less inhumane but for some reason is not understood as such by most people.
posted by The Straightener at 12:03 PM on July 14, 2009


Seems like deinstitutionalization in the US predates Reagan

Ah yes, but Regan was governor of Calilfornia from 1967 to 1975 and he was a HUGE supporter of getting folks off the public dole, i.e. the state mental hospitals.

I was a kid at the time, but my Mom worked at Agnew State Hospital in San Jose, CA at that time and would come home fuming about the budget cuts. (And about the gay people institutionalized for being mentally ill.)

At any rate, you can look squarely at Reagan for all kinds of horrible stuff. Homelessness and allowing AIDS to proliferate are the two that I focus on.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:07 PM on July 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


Here, this is probably worth adding to the discussion :

Seattle home for (homeless) alcoholics saved taxpayers $4 million

Perhaps Seattle isn't so bad after all.
posted by Afroblanco at 12:12 PM on July 14, 2009


Supportive housing and the projects are not the same thing. Supportive housing includes services and is designed to provide intensive support for residents, whereas housing projects are designed to provide affordable housing but little else. Why did you equate them?
posted by kathrineg at 12:13 PM on July 14, 2009


It's possible to bring an Assertive Community Treatment Team into a public housing setting, which happens frequently as sometimes there is little say over the kind of subsidy a client gets to fund their housing, but, yeah, "the projects" and supportive housing are not one in the same.
posted by The Straightener at 12:18 PM on July 14, 2009


There are some really good Supportive Housing places in NYC. I think they're SRO's with kitchens on each floor and on-site assistance with medication, social workers and such-like.

Most Mentally Ill folks are eligible for and receive SSI-Disability so their health care and a living stipend are available to them.

There are avenues for delivery of services and there's certainly a need.

There's no good reason for homelessness, but in this day and age, it is very low on the list of priorities.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:19 PM on July 14, 2009


I think enforcing laws criminalizing many of the unarguable societal downsides to people living on the streets, as long as it is coupled with adequate services designed to help people no longer live on the streets, is not "mean". There seems to be some confusion among homeless advocates that making it easier for people to live on the streets should be a goal in and of itself. This is like advocating for an injured person to have the right to lie there hurt and not be bothered. That is not what should happen. An ambulance should come and pick the guy up and get him to a hospital where he should be treated. For the cost of the services that are there to make it where homeless people can live on the streets, we as a society could eradicate homelessness through a combination of mental health and drug treatment and things like housing first initiatives. I would love for it to be illegal for people to use parks and libraries for other than their intended purposes, not by throwing people who have nowhere else to go out, but by making sure they have somewhere else to go. We should have as our goal the elimination of homelessness, not the enabling of it.
posted by ND¢ at 12:22 PM on July 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


gloege, I wouldn't exactly call "distaste or alarm at seeing homeless/mentally ill people" suffering. Certainly not in relation to the actual suffering under discussion.

I don't know about the merits of this list; it hardly matters. The discussion of homelessness is usually so depressing because we know what needs to be done; mental health care available to all, including treatment for addiction to substance abuse, and better safety nets for the sane, non-addicted homeless who have had bad luck but who want to work and get on their feet. Including housing, including counseling, including education.

All of which is expensive, unpopular with those who think the poor and ill are not deserving of help, and not the kind of thing for which politicians get more campaign dollars. So we pretend it's too expensive to try to solve the problem, all the while spending millions on more police, more barriers on park benches, more signs and ordinances, more ER visits, more property destruction, and so on.
posted by emjaybee at 12:23 PM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Apart from Kalamazoo, which - and I'm only guessing - isn't exactly tropical in mid-winter.

it's cold and snowy - and i think the reason that kalamazoo made the list isn't because of the laws, but because we have a very vocal advocacy group here - i see that the main part of their complaint is arrests of the homeless at the public transportation center - however, that's not the whole story - others have been arrested there for all sorts of crimes, it is used by the school system, (and not only do they have to protect the children, but they have to sometimes protect other people against those children), and gangs of local youths have been riding around on bikes beating the crap out of people, some of whom have been homeless - and this is NOT something that is condoned or wanted by the city government

worse yet, the police have often been heavy handed in their dealings with all sorts of people - and some of the local politicians and activists have been fairly heavy handed back

it's a complicated picture - and i think this "10 meanest" list is more like "10 towns we've raised the most complaints" at
posted by pyramid termite at 12:25 PM on July 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


All of which is expensive, unpopular with those who think the poor and ill are not deserving of help, and not the kind of thing for which politicians get more campaign dollars.

You're right on all points except this one, MJB, in fact this is the main selling point of housing first to conservative politicians and probably the reason why the Bush White House was actually a big proponent: it costs less. What is very expensive is jail cells, emergency rooms, detox beds, psych wards, homeless shelters and the other places that the chronically homeless wind up using as ad-hoc housing. This is why housing first is like the most perfect thing ever, not only is it more humane, it's actually cheaper than being inhumane and it has a huge evidence base to support the assertion that it works.
posted by The Straightener at 12:28 PM on July 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


Straightener, you are right, but I can tell you that for the average radio-talk-show conservative, the idea of giving away free housing to the whiskey-soaked guy on your doorstep does not get rousing cheers; even if it is cheaper, the prejudice against poor/addicted/mentally ill people runs deep. I mean, you're talking about a country where some are incensed that we're giving "special rights" to gay people by enacting hate crime laws or letting them get married. Giving shelter to homeless people rubs many the wrong way, because after all, they work and no one is giving them a free place to live. Etc.

But housing first is an excellent idea, and I hope that it catches on despite all the stupidity.
posted by emjaybee at 12:34 PM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh, hell I was all excited about L.A. being the "meanest city ev-ah" , then I saw that it was about how we treat the homeless, not just how we treat everybody.

Not cool, L.A.
posted by Xoebe at 12:35 PM on July 14, 2009


I live in downtown LA, where there is a lot of homeless. There are bunch of Missions (midnight mission, etc.) and Skid row.

But the fact is, downtown would be a lot cleaner, popular, cheaper, without homeless people taking dumps in the street or sleeping in tents on the sidewalk. People would not be afraid walk the street after the sun goes down. People are AFRAID of aggressive pan handlers. I been attacked twice (with no real damage or anything) by homeless guy drunk or schizophrenic. Even the dogs that people walk react defensively (i.e. try to protect their master or themselves) when these guys walk by close. I used to find needles and crack pipes behind my building till they lit it up bright lights every-night.

I know there are a lot of people there for reasons not their own fault or something they can't help. (i.e. mental health issues-- who are denied money to pay for their medication... usually medical issues :( ) And they need help, and I am willing to pay for that. I even volunteered at the Midnight Mission couple of times.

But for everyone else, the homeless guy cause he's drunk, a drug-users, or someone who won't get a job because it's 'beneath them' or other things. I can't bring my self feel sorry for them or give them help. More then once, I offered a homeless guy food, or even to BUY them food right there, but they always wanted the money for other things.

Most of the people sleeping on the street outside of the missions and shelters at night are people who refuse to abide by the safety rules of the missions or shelters. (i.e. don't be drunk, don't use drugs, be in before 6, talk to a councilor, see a nurse or doctor, etc.)

I interviewed this one homeless man, who was from Mexico with a Graduate degree in Psychology. He was homeless and panhandling because he came to America to make it big, but failed. And now had too much pride to go back home or call his family for help. Was what he said all true? I don't know. But he's story is similar to a lot of 'capable' homeless I talked to (regarding pride, ego, being above 'help' or doing things beneath them), which makes me believe him. I definitely do not feel sorry for him.

Therefore, I am totally glad LA is the meanest city against the homeless.
posted by countzen at 12:38 PM on July 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


katherineg and The Straightener - It is my understanding that supportive housing and public housing projects are both covered under Section 811. I don't know about your area but here, if you're off the streets and in government provided housing, you are in a housing project with other low to no income families.

emjaybee - I use the definition of suffer as follows: "to undergo, be subjected to, or endure" not "to undergo or feel pain or distress or to sustain injury, disadvantage or loss". And it is worse than distaste... many practices of the homeless spread disease and are not sanitary which can, in fact, impact us all. That said, I agree with your last paragraph and agree that something systematically needs to be done to support the homeless and provide them a way to get off the streets and stay off the streets. But I don't believe submitting a report stating which cities are "mean" is actually going to do much other than elicit discussion on Metafilter.
posted by gloege at 12:42 PM on July 14, 2009


Ruthless: Involuntary commitment *is* a civil rights issue.

Involuntary commitment in an psychiatric facility is imprisoning an individual, often with little-to-none due process or potential for appeal. Individuals with mental illness were (are?) commonly committed not because there was any clear evidence of danger, but because they disagreed with their treatment plans or were otherwise "difficult". The possibility of involuntary commitment scares people away from seeking treatment, and the power to involuntarily commit, and to forcibly medicate, disincentives psychiatric professionals from working to get buy-in from their patients.

Further, although there were excellent psychiatric facilities, the mentally ill were often warehoused in hospitals with despicable living conditions, heavily drugged and receiving no real psychiatric care. (E.g., The Wyatt v. Stickney lawsuit resulted in the closing of such hospitals in Alabama in the 70's.)
posted by a.dog at 12:55 PM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Most of the people sleeping on the street outside of the missions and shelters at night are people who refuse to abide by the safety rules of the missions or shelters.

Most homeless people refuse to go to shelters because they've previously been assaulted, had their belongings stolen, or couldn't put up with the rampant drug use in the shelter system. Anyone who has done street outreach work (I have) takes this to be self-evident because they've heard it over and over so many times.

Most of the people sleeping on the street outside of the missions and shelters at night are people who refuse to abide by the safety rules of the missions or shelters. (i.e. don't be drunk, don't use drugs, be in before 6, talk to a councilor, see a nurse or doctor, etc.)

You just summarized everything that has been ass backwards about social service provision for the past twenty years, that evidence based practitioners are working hard to overturn. Providing a housing service that revokes housing for behaviors directly related to the syndromes that cause homelessness in the first place isn't much of a service. This is why housing first works on a harm reduction model; no client can have his or her housing terminated for getting high or refusing to take medication. As a result, clients are more likely to actually remain in housing rather than returning to the streets, and this provides professionals with a window of time to engage the client and start providing services from a stable home base. It's counterintuitive to people who think in punitive terms, which unfortunately is still a large part of the social service world. However, that's changing, because harm reduction oriented housing first programs work, and punitive shelter based programs don't.
posted by The Straightener at 1:05 PM on July 14, 2009 [12 favorites]


In the mid-80s, a business owner here in Burlington, VT, got in trouble for his policy for dealing with our town's homeless population. He took an ad out in the local paper and offered a free, one-way bus ticket to Florida for any homeless person who wanted one.

Boy, did our liberal little town get its collective panties in a bunch over that one....
posted by brand-gnu at 1:05 PM on July 14, 2009


I found this report's methodology pretty shallow, and it's use of the term "meanest" was quite in keeping with its sloppy analysis. Upon examining their narrative for why Berkeley (my hometown) made it on to the list, I found this:

"On June 12, 2007, Berkeley’s City Council unanimously passed the “Public Commons for Everyone” initiative to “clear the streets of aggressive and disruptive behavior.” This law targets a wide range of behavior, including lying on or blocking the sidewalk, smoking near doorways, having a shopping cart, tying animals to fixed objects, littering, drinking in public, public urination and defecation and shouting in public.

The two-part law authorizes penalties for minor public offenses while extending funding for services including public restrooms."

Yet later in the article, the report quotes a councilperson saying that there was no extra funding for social services. Which is it? The report also doesn't seem to wrestle with the fact that this type of punitive legislation -- however ineffective -- becomes appealing in precisely those communities that have a big problem with homelessness (ie Berkeley and SF). As the report notes, "Berkeley has long had a reputation as a liberal, open-minded town that provided plenty of social services, which in turn attracted a large homeless population. According to one study, although it represents just 7% of Alameda County’s total population, Berkeley now hosts 40% of the county’s chronically homeless people."

These places aren't "meaner," they have a bigger problem with homelessness and are all resorting to similarly symbolic and empty legal measures to cope with the problem in a shallow and unsystematic way.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 1:18 PM on July 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


Ruthless: Involuntary commitment *is* a civil rights issue.


I absolutely agree. I believe that I indicated that in my answers. People were locked away for years, with no recourse and for really heinous things (like being gay, as mentioned before.)

On the flip-side, there were many folks who were properly committed, but who didn't want to be.

It's a very thin edge between protecting society and protecting the rights of those who might be disruptive to that society.

I don't think there's an easy or right answer here. Many of the arguements are facile and are meant to make people feel good for allowing folks to roam around the streets like zombies, as long as they stay out of my neighborhood and away from my building at work.

My point with the Reagan Era emptying of the asylums was that it sure was convenient that we could use the "Civil Liberties" argument to accomplish the desired budgetary reductions.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:18 PM on July 14, 2009


I live in the second meanest city. In the future I shall consider that as I avoid eye contact with the numerous panhandlers.
posted by lordrunningclam at 1:25 PM on July 14, 2009


"But for everyone else, the homeless guy cause he's drunk, a drug-users, or someone who won't get a job because it's 'beneath them' or other things. I can't bring my self feel sorry for them or give them help."

'Deserve' has got nothing to do with it. Or, what, someone with billions of dollars, who inherited it, etc. etc. they deserve to be rich? Because that's the flip side. Some rich guy who spends his days doing bowls of cocaine and nights drinking and whoring is respectable because he rides limos, but the guy sleeping in the street because he drinks, no, he's a scumbag?

Circumstances are circumstances. And often this is beyond any single individuals control. Therefore the response to these kinds of social ills must be a systemic response. Dispassionate in form and structure, but compassionate personally, in recognition that why someone is homeless isn't as relevant as the fact that they are.
The treatment of alcohol and drug abuse should not have a moral stigma. I'll grant it's often necessary to make rules for shelters to keep order, and these do make sense, you can't have one individual disrupting service delivery to others. But that's a practical matter, not a moral judgment.
On a personal level, sure, one can feel however one feels about this. But that has nothing to do with what an efficient systematic response to homelessness is, or may be.
Other than perhaps how one frames the issue...
So what then is the homelessness problem? How do we frame it? Is it that we've got all these lazy drunken bums who won't get a job? That then begs the question as to what we do with them.
So, what, then? Kill them? Let them suffer and die? Cast them to the wind?

Point being, the practical upshot is the same. Even if one takes the most inhumane treatment and engages in wholesale slaughter, one need only look at, say, the holocaust or the Stalinist purges or other forms of genocide - those events, practically speaking, were logistical and economic lodestones around the necks of their respective governments.
Ok, killing them is off the table. Leaving them alone? Again, not the best option.
The Romany, the travellers, etc. etc. - all have problems with crime and raise questions of education and health services.
Oh, one might think homeless folks don't deserve health services, but typhoid (et.al) doesn't much care about your moral character.
And why would any government take a census if they didn't think it was important for social planning?
So leaving them alone is off the table.
Bottom line - it's more practical (socially) to help them whether you personally feel sorry for them or not.
How to deliver that help is debatable (although plenty of stuff sed in the thread I agree with). But it should be predicated on social efficacy, not moral condemnation, or praise either for that matter. Logically, if some guy is doing well, has started taking care of himself, is becoming, in all ways, a 'worthy' individual, it's silly to offer him more aid rather than basing that on need.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:30 PM on July 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


And to clarify - 'why' someone is homeless is important in terms of efficiently addressing the root causes, not as a basis for determining whether to provide services. Just as a point of principle.
(In terms of the details, I'd have to bend to The Straightener's wisdom and experience)
posted by Smedleyman at 1:34 PM on July 14, 2009


Therefore, I am totally glad LA is the meanest city against the homeless.

Are you saying that the evidence of the ineffectiveness of LA's homeless policies makes you support those policies? Or just that you like the idea of punishing people instead of helping them?
posted by kathrineg at 1:48 PM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


"On June 12, 2007, Berkeley’s City Council unanimously passed the “Public Commons for Everyone” initiative to “clear the streets of aggressive and disruptive behavior.” This law targets a wide range of behavior, including lying on or blocking the sidewalk, smoking near doorways, having a shopping cart, tying animals to fixed objects, littering, drinking in public, public urination and defecation and shouting in public.

Seriously, you get called a meanie because you pass a law against public defecation? Really? I know Berkeley's done some weird things before, but when was that ever legal in Berkeley?
posted by jonp72 at 2:08 PM on July 14, 2009


"In my experience, San Francisco is where the meanest homeless people are. At least, in terms of aggressive panhandling and the like."

No, like mosquitoes and horseflies, the meanest, most aggressive panhandlers I've ever seen are in Michigan, because the demure and weak ones die off. Here on the West Coast, there's just a lot of 'em and they're year 'round.

I'll also note that the Detroit PD has a fairly broad history of just shooting folks who are having mental breakdowns. Not too long ago, there was the dude in the midst of some horrible hallucinatory fugue clutching a rake in his momma's back yard who got shot for not being able to tell that the guys who were all screaming at him weren't a threat. Detroit also shares LA's general philosophy of homeless management—put 'em in vans and send 'em west.
posted by klangklangston at 2:30 PM on July 14, 2009


high profile fuck up where an officer shot and killed a homeless man -- the homeless man was coming at him with a knife

If this is the July 3rd utility knife thing, I'll grant this is a huge tragedy, but fuck up seems like a rather harsh judgement of the officers involved. Unless the fuck up you are referring to is about the PR spin or details of the story that didn't make the papers?
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:35 PM on July 14, 2009


He took an ad out in the local paper and offered a free, one-way bus ticket to Florida for any homeless person who wanted one.

I hope Florida sent him an invoice.
posted by Artw at 2:39 PM on July 14, 2009


Enactment and enforcement of laws that restrict groups sharing food with
homeless persons in public spaces.


jesus is going to be motherfucking PISSED.
posted by klanawa at 2:50 PM on July 14, 2009 [4 favorites]


The Straightener, you seem to have more knowledge on this topic then me. I live in Downtown, I live 2 blocks away from skid row. I been attacked, car vandalized and broken into, also helped many homeless people living on the street. I even work at a company that does work for charities. So my views are probably different.

I think,you see it like everyone needs to help them; I see it as they need to help themselves. You can lead a horse to water but you can't make 'em drink. This has to be a 2 way thing, not one way.

If they are not willing to abide by simple rules, how do you expect to help them? Example of an extreme case, say you are a councilor, how can you help them if you are afraid they will attack you because they are not taking their schizophrenia (a common illness for the homeless) medication? I am sure this has come up, in reality somewhere, but I am just making a point about this being a 2 way support.

I agree with those shelters not being safe, but if you compare Skid Row vs Shelter, I would pick shelter every-time.

Smedleyman, I have no love for people who get rich off of other people. Do you? it doesn't sound like it. I had already agreed, yes there are people who are in certain situation due to circumstance. Medical, job loss, illness, bankruptcy, or just bad luck. The big differentiator is that some of them WANT TO get back on their feet. What I was mainly talking about people who don't care, or don't want to.

People who want to get better, DESERVE all the help we can give. I have no love, no pity for anyone who doesn't care about themselves or others. You can't help someone who doesn't want to help themselves.

However, you are 100% correct, you can't just leave them alone, or kill them, or anything inhumane. So, I am totally for LA being the meanest city everz.

kathrineg, well, just taking that tiny bit of sentence out of context, and your obvious logical fallacy (I think it's called "Fallacy of many questions", not so sure). Yes to your second questions but not so directly. How do you get people to know that smoking crack is bad? Let'em die? Tell them? Ignore them? Punish them?
posted by countzen at 2:58 PM on July 14, 2009


Wait, wait, let me guess...help them?
posted by kathrineg at 3:17 PM on July 14, 2009


klangklangston the dude in the midst of some horrible hallucinatory fugue clutching a rake in his momma's back yard who got shot for not being able to tell that the guys who were all screaming at him weren't a threat.
They were screaming at him, and then they shot him. Sounds like a major threat to me.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 3:35 PM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Housing first link.

10 meanest cities with scattering of links to housing first &/or homeless organizations pages:

1. Los Angeles, CA (Beyond Shelter)
2. St. Petersburg. FL (Punta Gorda, Kelly Hall)
3. Orlando, FL (Central Florida coalition for the homeless)
4. Atlanta, GA (United Way, Gateway Center)
5. Gainesville, FL (Central Florida coalition for the homeless)
6. Kalamazoo, MI (LISC and others)
7. San Francisco, CA (Hamilton Family Center and Raphael house)
8. Honolulu, HI (River Street Residences
9. Bradenton, FL (Punta Gorda, Kelly Hall)
10. Berkeley, CA (Abode, Building Futures with Women & Children)
posted by BrotherCaine at 3:43 PM on July 14, 2009


I'm surprised SF is on the list, but it reminded me to take some food to the guy who is camped out on the sidewalk across the street with all his worldly possessions. He showed up this morning. I see more and more new homeless people in my area of the city every week.
posted by rajbot at 3:47 PM on July 14, 2009


I agree with those shelters not being safe, but if you compare Skid Row vs Shelter, I would pick shelter every-time

I think if you got kicked out every other night because of addictive behaviors, you'd rather quickly give up on the shelter. Much easier to find a somewhat defensible location with places to hide your stuff and stake a semi permanent claim on it. But I've never been homeless, so I wouldn't know.
posted by BrotherCaine at 3:48 PM on July 14, 2009


countzen How do you get people to know that smoking crack is bad? Let'em die? Tell them? Ignore them? Punish them?
Make them smoking crack not a problem for others. So, why is it a problem for others? Illegality, mainly. Illegality spirals the price of crack up to the maximum the market can bear, and creates massive law enforcement and imprisonment etc costs.

So, rather than a massively expensive hellhole prison where the crackheads can't get crack, can't do anything useful, and spend most of their time trying to make each others' lives miserable and/or stay out of each others' personal spaces in a physical space too confined to accommodate that, and when they are eventually, arbitrarily, released go straight back to the crack and the crime required to get the crack; instead build a place where they can go, be given crack and whatever other drug(s) they want, under a regime of tracking the consumption with a view to reducing the strength of it and increasing the length of time between doses (ie, wean them off it slowly by default, letting them retard or accelerate that process within the limits of overdose prevention, and managing cold turkey/sweats periods), sleep, be fed, bathe and use a toilet, and not socialize or interact with the world unless they want to. Meal times, moderated interaction times, and off-site activity times--they'd not be forced to remain on-site--would be used for cleaning the rooms. Anyone capable of working could do various difficulty levels of piece work, which would help offset some of the costs of the facility but primarily exists as "work experience" for the inmates.

In other words, run the thing much like a halfway house for the mentally ill, but redeemable, because it is. Treat drug addiction exactly as a mental illness that may be curable under a regime of careful treatment, because it is.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 3:53 PM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


kathrineg your short answer doesn't add much. Of course help them, that's what I been saying, and I think what most of the people are saying everywhere on the comments. I think what people differ on is HOW to help them.

Perhaps you meant 'help' as in, you prefer that we help them by giving them more crack, who knows.

BrotherCaine Yeah, I haven't been homelss, so I am just guessing. There's actually a homeless lady that lives across street from me, in a parking lot. Every night she comes back, to hide in the dark behind some fences in the corner of the parking lot. The cops come by when she's really loud and screaming, and they kick her out, but eventually she comes back. Once she set fire to some trash cans. (No, it wasn't cold, I don't know why she did) and the fire trucks came. I haven't seen her in about a week or two.

When I compare to the shelter when I volunteer... I dunno.

aeschenkarnos That's be awesome, it's ALMOST close to how European countries deal with drunkards and homeless on the street. Well not that harsh, They use to have a bus that goes around with people that'd pick up the helpless/homeless take them to a shelter, let them sleep it off. Also there's forced hygiene (i.e. mass shower via hose) and forced health check-ups AND treatment. (One of the many benefits of not having private insurance run the health industry... but that's a different topic)

But I think your method would have ACLU up in arms.
posted by countzen at 4:18 PM on July 14, 2009


The Straightener, you seem to have more knowledge on this topic then me.

I have considerably more knowledge on this topic than you. If you search the site for threads on homelessness you'll see that I've spelled out everything you could possibly want to know about homeless services provision and community mental health, good hunting.
posted by The Straightener at 4:48 PM on July 14, 2009


But the fact is, downtown would be a lot cleaner, popular, cheaper, without homeless people taking dumps in the street or sleeping in tents on the sidewalk. People would not be afraid walk the street after the sun goes down. People are AFRAID of aggressive pan handlers. I been attacked twice (with no real damage or anything) by homeless guy drunk or schizophrenic.

No offense to any of the people I'm about to cast some blame on, but from personal nonprofessional observation the people who fuck up nearly every nook and cranny of Downtown LA are not necessarily the homeless.

The things you are talking about are a result of nearly everyone treating that part of the city like their personal toilet. Truckdrivers, cabbies, clubgoers, me. The only way the oases of gentrification maintain a general level of normality are by employing their own cleanup / security /etc. and by lobbying for the support of the police and city. This doesn't solve anything, just pushes the collective shit around and contributes to the reasons that L.A. lands on lists like "Meanest to Homeless People."

That said, when weighing how the homeless are treated in LA with the effects of the winter in NYC (which I've also seen) I say "Go West, old man."
posted by tastydonuts at 5:10 PM on July 14, 2009


countzen But I think your method would have ACLU up in arms.
The ACLU, much like punitive law, assumes as a philosophical position that humans exercise full volition. It's just as wrong about that. Of the two though, I trust the ACLU to have more of the best interests of people generally in mind.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 6:10 PM on July 14, 2009


I have considerably more knowledge on this topic than you. If you search the site for threads on homelessness you'll see that I've spelled out everything you could possibly want to know about homeless services provision and community mental health, good hunting.

No thanks. I know that you think you already know the solution to this problem. That's enough, no hunting needed.
posted by countzen at 6:14 PM on July 14, 2009


I had a friend in Honolulu who was homeless and made money by busking in Waikiki for tourists. He told us that there were basically no services available for the homeless in Honolulu County, especially for those suffering from addictions or mental illness. Combine that with incredibly high housing costs, complete failure to do any kind of urban planning for full-year resident working people, and of course you're going to have a disaster on your hands. That's why so many people live rough in the highlands and the beaches, even people who have full-time jobs.
posted by 1adam12 at 6:18 PM on July 14, 2009


The Straightener, you seem to have more knowledge on this topic then me.
-countzen

I have considerably more knowledge on this topic than you. If you search the site for threads on homelessness you'll see that I've spelled out everything you could possibly want to know about homeless services provision and community mental health, good hunting.
-The Straightener

Geeze TS, countzen was trying to be conciliatory there. Meet him half way on it.

I think we can all agree that the "Meanest Cities" title is a misnomer. I would point out that most of these towns, not just Berkley and San Francisco are relatively "liberal". Many are major college towns. I don't think that is coincidental.

Growing up in Gainesville FL, I noticed an rough trend in UF students there. Freshmen would generally give money to the homeless and sometime participate in outreach programs. They were usually sympathetic.

Sophomores were less likely to give money to the homeless, but might still participate in some kind of charity work. Religious students probably had a greater chance of participating in some church-backed program, which are quite common in Gainesville.

By the time people people had spent 3-4 years in Gainesville, they were largely fed up with being assaulted, harranged, lied to, and threatened.

I used to give money all the time. I remember hearing a particularly sad sob story while walking down the street. I gave the homeless guy $5. On my way back from class I saw the guy drinking a quart of malt liquor and smoking a Black and Mild. There's nothing special about the that story, it's exactly what you would expect.

The general panhandling line in Gainesville goes like this:

"Give me a dollar."
"I don't have a dollar, but here's fifty cents."
"I can't buy shit with 50 cents, give me a fucking dollar, now!"

There's a huge problem with bike theft in Gainesville, largely due to the homeless population. You'll see homeless people riding around on bikes that once cost upwards of 6-700 dollars, sprayed painted in an attempt to conceal their origins. They have a trick where they will ride their bikes up to the student living areas, knock on people's doors and ask for money. I used to get harassed about twice a week in my own house by crack addicts who would try to coerce me into giving them a few bucks.

As others have said, offers to buy food are usually declined, because the homeless usually want the money for alcohol etc.

I'm not blaming the homeless population. It's a terrible situation, it may even be getting worse. There's obviously a huge correlation between homelessness and mental illness.

We can't ignore the fact that people enact anti homeless laws because homeless people generally ruin the area they choose (maybe choose isn't the right word) to inhabit. Gainesville has a wonderful downtown concert area that was rendered nearly unusable for a few years due to the disruptive homeless population.

I used to work at a restaurant where I saw two homeless guys stab each other over a box of raisins. That's tragic, and it's fucked up. As stated above, people are sick of getting there cars broken into. People are sick of seeing human excrement in their parks. People are sick of being threatened for money.

Is Gainesville mean to homeless people? No. Gainesville has great community resources. We have a bike co-op that teaches homeless people how to repair bicycles, at the end of the course they are given a free bike. We have a program called community Harvest where restaurants and stores donate left over food. We have special homeless donation boxes scattered all over the city where people can donate their loose change to support homeless programs.

Gainesville has a homeless problem largely because the community is so accommodating and because there are so many idealistic students who want to make a positive change.

On there other hand, the huge numbers of homeless people do cause real problems in safety, and quality of life for the other residents. It's childish to simplify the problem by saying that Gainesville is "mean" to the homeless.
posted by Telf at 8:47 PM on July 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


---- I find things like this quite disturbing:
"Los Angeles, CA. According to a study by UCLA released in September 2007,
Los Angeles was spending $6 million a year to pay for fifty extra police officers
as part of its Safe City Initiative to crack down on crime in the Skid Row area at a
time when the city budgeted only $5.7 million for homeless services. Advocates
found that during an 11-month period 24 people were arrested 201 times, with an
estimated cost of $3.6 million for use of police, the jail system, prosecutors,
public defenders and the courts. Advocates asserted that the money could have
instead provided supportive housing for 225 people. Many of the citations issued
to homeless persons in the Skid Row area were for jaywalking and loitering --
“crimes” that rarely produce written citations in other parts of Los Angeles."
---- money spent exacerbating the problem rather than solving it. Some cities like NYC actually have found that providing modest apartments for the homeless to be more economical than trying to deal with and/of patch residual problems. And with a stable abode, many find they are able to re-enter the workforce.
posted by vvurdsmyth at 10:20 PM on July 14, 2009



Enactment and enforcement of laws that restrict groups sharing food with
homeless persons in public spaces.


Is this a reference to crackdowns on Food Not Bombs?
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 11:58 PM on July 14, 2009


SF ? Give me a break. If they've criminalized ANYTHING, 16th and mission didn't get the memo
posted by jcruelty at 7:34 AM on July 15, 2009


RaceWire has a fantastic article about the report.
posted by lunit at 6:47 AM on July 17, 2009


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