Denver, Colorado, is one of the latest American cities to join the so-called ‘Hall of Shame’ of metropolises actively seeking to turn homelessness into a crime.
Last Tuesday, Denver city officials and a large police contingent showed up to enforce a removal order for 150 people living on the city’s sidewalks.
Denver is the latest US city to enforce such orders. Hawaii, Texas and Washington state, were the pioneers in the morally indefensible stance of citizen ostracization. Many cities have already banned living inside vehicles, camping in public areas, and begging. These bylaws are particularly damaging, as they often lead to the impoundment of vehicles, which normally means that the person affected loses all their belongings.
Across more and more places in the US, anyone deemed to be an eyesore for the upper castes, a nuisance, or a drain on society, is being pushed down a long road to nowhere.
Last August, the mayor of Portland, Oregon, announced that a ‘safe sleep’ pilot initiative would be terminated. ‘Safe sleep’ allowed homeless people to sleep on the streets and be left alone by the authorities. However, the mayor ended the initiative as some believed it caused ‘confusion’ among certain people who took it to mean that public camping had become legal.
As they were moved on, people in Denver chanted “No handcuffs. Give us homes,” to no avail. Police officers have no time for compassion, it seems.
A lot of metropolitan enclaves across the United States have seen a dramatic spike in homelessness. Rising home prices mean that affordable housing is becoming increasingly unattainable for those on ‘regular’ incomes. A similar problem is occurring here in Ireland right now. The Government may be planning to build thousands of new homes, but since only a privileged sector of society will be able to afford them, they might as well be building none.
The act of criminalizing homelessness is nothing new, of course. Mankind has seen plenty of similarly wretched behaviour through history.
During the Peasant’s Revolt in England in the 1830s, for instance, laws were passed to enable constables to collar vagabonds. If they resisted, they’d be sent to jail and kept on stocks for three days and three nights. Later on, whipping was added to the punishment.
Throughout the mid 16th century, vagrants could be subjected to two years of servitude and being branded with a ‘V’ for their first offence. Death for their second. Humanity has not shown much pity, compassion, or understanding for homelessness.
The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty is an advocacy group organized to help people facing homelessness across the United States. The group has called for some of the recent laws passed to criminalize homelessness to be deemed unconstitutional.
According to the group, such laws further marginalize those affected, imposing even more barriers to accessing education, housing, or employment.
The presidential victory of Donald Trump, an elitist businessman to the core, is likely to compound the issue even further.
Criminalising homelessness is just a short step away to internment.