Homeless People Aren’t Criminals

A new USA Today column by Arjun Sethi, a young attorney and member of the Law Center’s Associates Advisory Council, leaves no room for debate: it’s wrong to treat homeless persons like criminals.

There’s no shortage of reasons why criminalizing homelessness is wrong.  On their face, such policies are morally deplorable.  The idea that we would punish people for their lives having unraveled is so far outside the boundaries of conscience that it’s almost surreal we’re even talking about it.

Even stripping away the human element, basic math is on our side.  It costs about $87 per day to jail a person, and $28 to give them shelter.  There’s no escaping the fact that criminalization is irrational fiscal policy.

And while these laws cycle homeless people in and out of the criminal justice system, making it more difficult for them to receive services and get a job, there’s ample evidence that prevention and housing programs work.  The Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-housing Program prevented or ended homelessness for over one million people.  Seems a little more constructive than throwing them in jail, doesn’t it?

At the end of the day, it’s incumbent upon us to keep the pressure on.  By every objective measure, we’re in the right on this issue.

To learn more about criminalization laws and how you can get involved in the fight to restore homeless persons’ dignity, read our report and advocacy manual.

– Andy Beres, Development & Communications Coordinator

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