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Anti-Homeless Ordinances in American Cities

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Abstract: This study aims to better understand the prevalence of anti-homeless ordinances in U.S. cities and the varying policy contexts surrounding these ordinances. Nine sample cities were selected for analysis, which began with a scan of each city’s municipal code to see if anti-homeless ordinances were present. This was followed by interviews with one local homeless advocate and one member of local government in each city (n=14). Eight out of nine sample cities had at least one anti-homeless ordinance in their municipal code. Interviews suggested that people experiencing homelessness in cities with anti-homeless ordinances tend to be perceived as alcohol or substance users, freeloaders, and criminals. This negative social construction of people experiencing homelessness is a significant contributing factor to the occurrence of anti-homeless ordinances in U.S. cities.
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Anti-Homeless Ordinances in
American Cities
Caitlin Carey, University of Massachusetts Boston
Urban Affairs Association 47th Conference
Minneapolis, MN
April 22, 2017
Motivation
Image retrieved from www.google.com
What Are Anti-Homeless Ordinances?
General anti-vagrancy laws
Laws that target behaviors typically associated with
homelessness:
Panhandling
Sleeping in public
Building temporary shelters
Laws that prevent people from providing food or services
to the homeless
Literature Review
Prior research:
Mostly from the 1990s and early 2000s
Largely from the fields of Law and Geography
Focus on single-n case studies
Focus on constitutional challenges to anti-homeless laws
Legal precedent – the homeless are not a protected class
(Hansel, 2011)
Major themes:
Focus on the battle for space in cities
Sanitation and extermination (Amster, 2003)
Research Questions
How prevalent are anti-homeless ordinances in U.S.
cities?
Why do anti-homeless ordinances exist in some U.S.
cities?
Does the occurrence of anti-homeless ordinances vary
by
Geographic location?
City size?
Homeless population size?
Per capita rate of homelessness?
How strictly are anti-homeless ordinances enforced?
Methodology: Sample Selection
Nine sample cities, aiming for variation across:
Geographic location
Population size
Homeless population size
Per capita rate of homelessness
Two interviews per city (convenience/snowball sampling)
One homeless advocate
One local government official
Methodology: Data Collection and Analysis
Count of different types of anti-homeless
ordinances in each city
1. Scan of municipal
codes
One homeless advocate
One local government official
2. Two contrasting
interviews per city
Draw out themes from interviews3. Qualitative analysis
Why do anti-homeless ordinances exist in
some cities?
4. Process-tracing
Sample Cities
Image retrieved from www.goolge.com
Sample Cities
City Size
Category
Census
Region
2015 Homeless
Population Size
(ranked from
largest to smallest)
2015 Per Capita
Rate of
Homelessness
(Calculated)
Count of Different
Types of Ant i-
Homeless
Ordinances
City A
Large West 1 0.647% 5
City B
Large South 20.242% 4
City C
Large South 31.029% 5
City D
Medium
West 6 0.328% 1
City E
Medium
Midwest 9 0.002% 3
City F
Medium
South 80.015% 3
City G
Small
Northeast
41.106% 0
City H
Small West 5 0.589% 2
City I
Small
Northeast
70.185% 1
Common Types of Anti-homeless
Ordinances in Sample Cities
City Panhandling
Camping/Te
mporary
Shelters
Sleeping
in Public
Storing
Belongings
on Public
Property
Feeding the
Homeless
City A
City B
City C
City D
City E
City F
City G
City H
City I
7 5 3 3 2
Qualitative Results:
City A (5 different types of anti-homeless ordinances)
Homeless advocate described the general attitude towards
homelessness in the city as “the worst in the nation”
City B (4 different types of anti-homeless ordinances)
Local government official explained, “There is not the great
political will to solve the problem. As long as people don’t
see it, they’re ok with it, but seeing it makes them
uncomfortable.”
City E (3 different types of anti-homeless ordinances)
Homeless advocate explained, “These ordinances are
created to stop panhandlers from crossing the street into the
affluent communities.”
Qualitative Results (continued):
City F (3 different types of anti-homeless ordinances)
According to the local government official, the city recently
implemented an anti-panhandling ordinance. As they were
writing the ordinance, they prepared their defense in case it
was challenged in court – because neighboring cities have
similar laws that have been found unconstitutional in court
(according to the local government)
City G (0 anti-homeless ordinances)
Highest rate of homelessness in the sample
Actually increasing services for the homeless (according to
both the advocate and the local government)
City I (1 anti-homeless ordinance)
Local government official said that some residents in more
affluent neighborhoods feel like they’ve spent a million dollars
on their homes and pay high property taxes, so they shouldn’t
have to see homeless people in their neighborhoods and
“fear for their families.”
Interview Themes
Associating alcohol or substance use with homelessness
Homelessness as an “eyesore”
Destination city for the homeless
Tourist destination – homelessness as a tourist deterrent
Social Construction of the Homeless
Constructions
Positive Negative
Power
Strong
Advantaged
The elderly
Business
Veterans
Scientists
Contenders
The rich
Big unions
Minorities
Cultural elites
Moral majority
Weak
Dependents
Children
Mothers
Disabled
Deviants
Criminals
Drug addicts
Communists
Flag burners
Gangs
Figure copied from Schneider & Ingram (1993)
Conclusion
8 out of 9 sample cities have anti-homeless ordinances
Constituent complaints often lead to anti-homeless
ordinances
Anti-homeless ordinances are best explained by the
negative social construction of homeless populations
BUT…there is an underlying story of hope!
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