Anti-Homeless Ordinances in
Caitlin Carey, University of Massachusetts Boston
Urban Affairs Association 47th Conference
April 22, 2017
What Are Anti-Homeless Ordinances?
▸General anti-vagrancy laws
▸Laws that target behaviors typically associated with
▸Sleeping in public
▸Building temporary shelters
▸Laws that prevent people from providing food or services
to the homeless
▸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
▸Focus on the battle for space in cities
▸Sanitation and extermination (Amster, 2003)
▸How prevalent are anti-homeless ordinances in U.S.
▸Why do anti-homeless ordinances exist in some U.S.
▸Does the occurrence of anti-homeless ordinances vary
▸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:
▸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
• 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
largest to smallest)
2015 Per Capita
Count of Different
Types of Ant i-
Large West 1 0.647% 5
Large South 20.242% 4
Large South 31.029% 5
West 6 0.328% 1
Midwest 9 0.002% 3
South 80.015% 3
Small West 5 0.589% 2
Common Types of Anti-homeless
Ordinances in Sample Cities
7 5 3 3 2
▸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
▸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
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.”
▸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
Figure copied from Schneider & Ingram (1993)
▸8 out of 9 sample cities have anti-homeless ordinances
▸Constituent complaints often lead to anti-homeless
▸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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