Mean Streets Getting Meaner; Cities Launch Crackdowns on Homeless

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					Mean Streets Getting Meaner; Cities
Launch Crackdowns on Homeless

By V. Dion Haynes
Chicago Tribune (KRT)

LOS ANGELES--Having been roused from sleep by security guards demanding that she
vacate the sidewalk near a fish plant, Regina Whatley tossed her possessions into a
shopping cart, broke down her tent and departed to find another spot on the crowded
streets of skid row.

"If they catch you sleeping, they tell you you could go to jail," said Whatley, 46, a
resident of a decayed section of downtown best described as a makeshift urban refugee
camp where an estimated 4,000 people live in tents and boxes.

"They tell you you got to relocate. But where we going to go?"

With one of the largest populations of street people in the nation, the City of Angels is
embarking on a campaign to disperse the homeless from their traditional hub and make
certain aspects of homelessness a crime.

A growing number of cities, including Los Angeles, Seattle and Atlanta, are
criminalizing activities of the homeless, according to the National Coalition for the
Homeless. More than 60 cities are introducing measures to make it illegal to beg or sleep
on the streets, to sit in a bus shelter for more than an hour or to walk across a parking lot
if the person doesn't have a car parked there.

In Los Angeles, the objective is to clear out "Tent City," an area where prostitution, drug
dealing and even open defecation have hampered decades-old plans to draw shoppers,
businesses and development.

Setting the stage to move forward on a new plan to convert long-vacant office buildings
into upscale lofts and shops, city officials in recent months have posted signs notifying
homeless people that they are breaking the law by sleeping on the street, and police have
been rounding up violators.

Now the city is proposing two new ordinances that would prohibit churches, civic
associations and other unauthorized groups from feeding the homeless and would make it
a crime for the homeless to erect tents on the street.

Many U.S. cities are also facing a sizable increase in their homeless populations, a surge
experts attribute to higher unemployment and a decline in the amount of affordable
housing. Some predict the problem will only escalate over the next few years when five-
year deadlines under welfare reform kick in, pushing millions off public assistance rolls.

The surge has sparked debates across the country at the federal and local levels on how
best to deal with homelessness.

At the same time, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and cities
including Chicago, New York and Philadelphia are seeking to tackle chronic
homelessness. City and community agencies are offering permanent housing as well as
substance abuse and mental health counseling and job training to remove the most
troubled individuals from the streets.

The punitive approach only works when "it is combined with increased social services,
sensitizing the police and giving homeless people opportunities to go in," said Philip
Mangano, executive director of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness,
an independent federal agency that coordinates the homelessness activities of 20

Mangano is promoting a HUD program to be rolled out this year that will offer $35
million in grants to communities interested in providing housing for the chronically

"Without 1/8 the services 3/8 people go 30, 60 or 90 days in jail, and then they are back
on the streets," he said. Arresting the homeless "hides the problem for a while 1/8 instead
of 3/8 solving it."

No one has an exact count of the homeless people across the U.S. The most official
count, by researchers in 1996, showed that 800,000 people were homeless on any given
night and about 3 million were on the street for varying periods during a year.

But estimates from various cities help illustrate the increase in homelessness. For
instance, in Chicago, 15,000 people are homeless on any given night. City officials said
the number of families seeking shelter rose 35 percent from 2001 to 2002.

Milwaukee has about 2,500 homeless people per night. City officials say the number of
families seeking shelters has been rising almost 10 percent a year; the number of
homeless single men has climbed 25 percent in the last six months; and the number of
homeless single women has soared 75 percent from 1996.

In New York, the number of homeless people per night stands at 38,000, up from 25,000
just before the Sept. 11 attacks.

Along 6th Street on Los Angeles' skid row one recent morning, a man was sleeping on
the ground near a flock of pigeons. A woman was sitting on a suitcase near a pile of
human waste. Down the street and around the corner for blocks and blocks, dozens of
people were sitting in tents, sprawled on tarps or toting garbage bags and shopping carts
with their possessions.

"With people being released from jail and having nowhere to go and cuts in welfare--this
is just going to get worse," said Andrew Johnson, an organizer with the Los Angeles
Community Action Network. "City officials are not looking at all the problems
contributing to this."

In Chicago, the population surge has prompted leaders to shift more from the philosophy
of maintaining homeless people to reducing homelessness. Like many cities, Chicago
traditionally invested millions to shelter, feed and clothe homeless people. Now it is
seeking to provide more psychological and substance abuse counseling, job training and
permanent housing to move many out of homelessness into self-sufficiency.

Mayor Richard Daley early this year announced a plan to decrease the number of shelter
beds by 1,000 to 5,200, investing the savings into developing five new single-room
occupancy buildings containing 590 units.

Housing experts say that existing programs in Chicago, New York and San Francisco
have improved the lives of formerly homeless people. Still, with more people becoming
homeless, the programs have had little impact on the streets.

"The programs are successful for people who get into them but not big enough to address
the magnitude of the problem," said Maria Foscarinis, executive director of the National
Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. She added that the new $35 million HUD
program "is a drop in the bucket. It's a tiny amount of money to solve a growing

Saying that the population of newly homeless people consists largely of single women
with children, housing advocates are calling on the federal government and cities to
provide more affordable housing. Studies, they say, indicate that 3.3 million apartments
and rooms are needed to meet the nationwide demand.

Advocates further criticize the HUD program, saying the money only offsets substantial
cuts in rent subsidies and other funds for low-income people seeking housing assistance.
Many are supporting legislation in Congress that would use $5 billion in federal funds to
provide more than 1 million units of housing for low-income people.

About 100 years ago, Los Angeles began to attract people drawn by warm weather and
dreams of the good life. Similarly, the downtown skid row became a magnet for down-
on-their-luck individuals from around the country. Over the years the city never really
attempted to stray from those roots, accommodating the transients through flophouses,
fleabag hotels, shelters and free-food missions.

But now the homeless population far exceeds shelter spaces--at least 41,500 people for
8,600 beds--creating a constant conflict on the street with shoppers and area businesses.
   "We have seen a huge increase in the last five years. This is the worst city in the U.S. as
   far as homelessness is concerned," said Tracey Lovejoy, executive director of Central
   City East Association, which represents businesses in the area.

   "For us it's a public health issue," she added. "Our seafood, beef jerky, spice and
   vegetable businesses have been cited by the USDA for what's going on outside the

   Los Angeles Councilwoman Jan Perry called for proposals that would criminalize the
   encampments and groups that serve food to the homeless without authorization. Though a
   plan to convert winter shelters into year-round facilities would not meet the entire
   demand and construction of affordable housing is perhaps years off, Perry said the city no
   longer can ignore the situation in skid row.

   "It's like 'Dante's Inferno;' it's utterly, absolutely heartbreaking down there," Perry said.

   "Infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS are rampant. There's substance
   abuse, domestic violence," she added. The proposed ordinances are "not punitive--this is
   the humane thing to do."

   Back to top ^


   "A growing number of cities, including Los Angeles, Seattle and Atlanta, are
   criminalizing activities of the homeless, according to the National Coalition for the
   Homeless. More than 60 cities are introducing measures to make it illegal to beg or sleep
   on the streets, to sit in a bus shelter for more than an hour or to walk across a parking lot
   if the person doesn't have a car parked there." (Chicago Tribune) This article presents the
   nationwide crackdown against the homeless population.


   You can copy and paste this information into your own documents.

Haynes, V. Dion. "Mean Streets Getting Meaner; Cities Launch Crackdowns on Homeless."
   Chicago Tribune (Chicago, IL). 30 May 2003: n.p. SIRS Researcher. Web. 16 Jul 2011.

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