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WorldWise: Stop criminalizing homelessness

Wed, Jun 27, 2012

Homeless people beg for money on O’Connell Bridge in central Dublin.

As more and more governments around the world take steps to criminalize homelessness, FEANTSA, the European Federation of National Organizations Working with Homeless People, is launching a European-wide campaign to tackle the issue and challenge public perceptions.

The past several years have seen a marked decline in solidarity in our society; instead we’ve seen an increase in policies and laws that punish poor people and police their access to public space. In the UK, one of the punishments for a civil offense, such as an “anti-social behavior order,” is to be denied a place on social housing lists. The UK has also recently declared squatting a criminal offense. In Hungary, governments have gone further: they have drawn up a list of “authorized” public behavior, so police are now free to harass, threaten or even arrest groups they deem undesirable. In France, more and more
municipalities are banning begging, making caravan parking illegal for Roma people and Travellers,treating slums as a threat to public safety, forcing prostitutes further and further from the city centers, to name but a few. But these are not isolated examples; these issues are on the rise in Spain, Lithuania, The Netherlands, Denmark, Italy and Greece as well.

The first thing that hits you is that criminalizing poverty is a paradox. We are in the middle of a prolonged economic crisis, combined with severe austerity measures across Europe, which have resulted in reduced services and programs for people struggling to make ends meet. These conditions force more and more people to use more desperate means of survival, such as begging, living in slums or going through rubbish bins looking for food or items they can recycle or sell. But now, people who resort to these survival tactics face punishment and arrest. People who are vulnerable and struggling to get by are unlikely to be able to defend themselves against these laws and regulations because they might not be aware of their rights or of the judicial process, and cannot afford to pay for legal defense. This kind of policing of extreme poverty does not respect individual rights.

This repressive treatment of people at the margins of our societies reflects a new “panic” policy for public spaces. Despite claims that our cities are culturally and socially mixed and therefore vibrant, public spaces are now seen as places in which citizens pose a threat to each other. So our institutions focus on “anti-terrorism,” install closed circuit security cameras, and send in the police to deal with issues, especially in low-income neighbourhoods.

Staff Writer, FEANTSA

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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