10 Unbelievably Sh**ty Things America Does to Homeless People
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4. Installing obstacles to prevent sleeping or sitting. Many cities have invested in their homeless torture infrastructure, spending thousands to install obstacles preventing the homeless from sleeping, standing, or sitting in parks, under bridges and next to public transportation.
The city of Minneapolis installed "bridge rods" -- pyramid structures meant to keep the homeless from sleeping under bridges. It hasn't worked -- apparently it helps people store their stuff -- but the effort costs the city $10,000 a year. Benches in Honolulu bus stops were swapped out for round, concrete stools, according to a roundup of anti-homeless laws by Coalition for the Homeless.
Sarasota, Florida just got rid of all the benches in its city parks. The city also instituted a smoking ban in conjunction with the bench removal, citing it as another way to repel the homeless who gathered in the area. The city later expanded the ban to public spaces throughout the city, but an exception was eventually carved out for a city-owned golf course (for totally mysterious reasons).
Manteca, California changed the sprinkler schedule from day to night in order to water any homeless who tried to sleep in a local park.
5. Anti-panhandling laws. Standing on the street and saying something like, "Occupy Wall Street!" or "Do you have a dollar?" -- clearly falls under constitutionally protected free speech. Still, cities all over the country enforce strict anti-panhandling laws that make it illegal to ask for money, food or anything else of value around tourist attractions, and in some cases city-wide. A 2009 report by the National Coalition for the Homeless found that 47 percent of cities surveyed had some form of measure prohibiting begging in some public spaces, while 23 percent forbid it anywhere in the city.
There are already laws on the books against aggressive panhandling -- Rudy Giuliani deftly exploited them to purge homeless people from Manhattan in the 1990s -- so arguments that panhandling laws are required to protect tourists from mistreatment at the hands of the city's homeless fall flat. Many panhandling laws protect against such threatening behavior as asking for money next to a bus stop, public bathroom, train station, taxi stand, on public transportation, or after dark. In Orlando, a city ordinance forbids telling a lie or "misleading" when asking for money. A St. Petersburg ordinance proposed in 2011 -- that ended up being shelved -- would have banned misleading signs.
Fines for panhandling can go into the hundreds of dollars and months of jail time.
6. Anti-panhandling laws to punish people who give. Some cities are so eager to spare their citizens the horrors of panhandling they've instituted laws protecting them from themselves. In 2010 Oakland Park, Florida, made it illegal to give money to panhandlers. The Los Angeles Times reported:
Under the ordinance initially passed last month, anyone who responds to a beggar with money or any "article of value" or buys flowers or a newspaper from someone on the street would face a fine of $50 to $100 and as many as 90 days in jail. "You're going to put someone in jail for giving someone a coat when it's cold or a hamburger if they're hungry?" City Commissioner Suzanne Boisvenue said Wednesday. "For me, it's so wrong." She cast the only "no" vote at the March meeting.
7. Feeding panhandling meters instead of panhandlers. Cities across the country have launched programs that encourage people to feed "panhandling meters" with change rather than give directly to the homeless. The bulk of the cash goes to homeless charities. While many homeless advocates applaud the giving sentiment behind the meters, they also point out that the machines can make the issue abstract and easier to detach from emotionally. As the National Coalition for the Homeless says on their blog, "Donations to service organizations are always encouraged, but we should never let these meters discourage acknowledging those who ask for money are fellow human beings. Just as ignoring the issue of homelessness will not help end it, ignoring the people directly affected by homelessness will not help them help themselves."