Cities across the US are enacting more bans on living in vehicles, camping in public and begging, despite federal efforts to discourage such laws amid a shortage of affordable housing, according to a new report.
Denver, which ordered about 150 homeless people living on pavements to clear out their belongings on Tuesday, was among four cities criticised for policies criminalising homelessness in a report by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, an advocacy group aiming to prevent people from losing their homes.
The other cities listed in its “hall of shame” are in Hawaii, Texas and Washington state.
Many cities with increasing home prices have been struggling with homelessness, including Denver and Honolulu, which were reprimanded for an anti-camping law and ban on sitting or lying on sidewalks, respectively.
“These laws are unconstitutional and bad public policy,” Maria Foscarinis, the centre’s executive director, said.
“Homelessness remains a national crisis across the country. It’s fuelled by the growing lack of affordable housing and the shrinking safety net.”
The report, which was based on a review of policies enacted by 187 cities over a decade, said bans on living in vehicles had increased by 143 percent.
Those laws can be particularly devastating because they often lead to vehicle impoundment, and people can lose all of their belongings, disrupting their ability to work or attend school, Foscarinis said.
In Denver, authorities had given notice that homeless people had to move their things. While some packed up and left, others resisted, so the city gave them more time, said Julie Smith, a spokeswoman for the human services department.
She said the city wants to help them go to shelters and get other services.
Amber Miller, Denver’s spokesperson, called the report’s findings inaccurate, saying the centre relied on local advocacy groups with incorrect information. She said Denver’s priority was to help people to find assistance.
“We have increased outreach workers and paired them with police patrols, expanded day and night shelter, created 250 units of permanent supportive housing and launched a day work programme,” Miller said in a statement.
The homeless emergency
Honolulu was criticised for what the report called aggressive enforcement of its sit-lie ban.
The group said the city has issued more than 16,000 warnings to people violating the ban since it was enacted in Waikiki in 2014.
But Jesse Broder Van Dyke, spokesperson for Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell, said the report fails to mention that since the sit-lie law took effect in September 2014, officers had issued 21,630 warnings and made only 27 arrests after a public education and warning period.
He also said over the past two years Honolulu had helped to house more than 1,000 people who were experiencing homelessness, including more than 860 veterans.
The state declared a state of emergency for homelessness in October 2015. With a 46 percent increase in the number of homeless families, Hawaii has the highest rate of homeless per capita in the US.
The report also targeted Dallas and Puyallup, Washington. Dallas was criticised for issuing thousands of citations for sleeping in public, and Puyallup, in Pierce County, for making it illegal to camp, beg or sit and lie down in parts of the city, despite lacking adequate space in an emergency shelter.
Neighbouring King County, which the report said had experienced an “explosive” increase in its homeless population, declared a regional state of emergency on homelessness last year.
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and the city council are working on a plan that would allow for more spaces for homeless encampments.