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Homelessness alternatives are cost-effective

Fri, May 25, 2012

Bridging the gap between law enforcement and service providers is the theme of “Searching Out Solutions,” a recent government report
outlining potential solutions to the criminalization of “acts of living” by people experiencing street homelessness. Throughout the country, different jurisdictions have laws that criminalize behavior such as sleeping, eating and panhandling in public spaces. But, the
costs of such laws are too high, the report says, for both local governments and those arrested.

“Criminalization policies are costly and consume substantial state and local resources,” according to the report authored by the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness and the U.S. Department of Justice. “In today’s economic climate, it is important for state,
county, and local entities to invest in programs that work rather than spend money on activities that are unlikely to achieve the desired result and which may, in some cases, open the jurisdiction to liability,” the report said.

Some of the “acts of living” criminalized by local governments may be constitutionally protected, the report elaborated. Additionally, a criminal record can prevent people experiencing homelessness from securing employment, housing and even access to shelter and food.

“[C]riminalization policies further marginalize men and women who are experiencing homelessness, fuel inflammatory attitudes, and may even unduly restrict constitutionally protected liberties,” the report stated.

Instead of enforcing harsh laws, the report provides models from some cities that have chosen to direct these individuals towards services instead of courtrooms and jail cells. These models include police-based crisis and outreach teams, holistic public defender’s offices, court diversion programs and shelter policy reforms.

Written by: Jesse Call
The Contributor

StreetWise magazine is proud to provide WorldWise content republished by the International Network of Street Papers’ independent Street News Service. This service features stories submitted by the 100+ street papers around the world in an effort to raise awareness for homelessness and bring a voice to the underserved.

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