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Monday, August 20, 2018

Opinion

Laws affecting homeless people do not reflect well on society


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The U.S. poverty rate rose to 13.2 percent of the population, increasing the number of homeless people out on the streets. | Pablo Milanese/The Cougar

Those who are homeless have had struggles most of us cannot even begin to comprehend. Some governments in the United States, however, have made the misguided decision to pass laws making their lives even harder.

Last month, the United States Department of Justice released a statement of interest on a case where seven homeless people in Boise, Idaho, sued the city to overturn a ban on camping and sleeping because they’ve been punished under the local ordinances.

“Making it a crime for people who are homeless to sleep in public places when there’s insufficient shelter space in a city really is a violation of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment,” said Vanita Gupta, leader of the civil rights unit of the DOJ.

According to a national student campaign, the U.S. poverty rate rose to 13.2 percent of the population. In addition, 3.5 million people were forced to sleep in parks, under bridges, in shelters or cars.

City leaders feel more pressure to do something about homelessness when they are more visible in their communities.

This is a huge issue that we have even seen had its repercussions in many cities across the U.S., including Houston.

In 2004, Houston approved a “civility ordinance,” expanding the area in which it is prohibited to lie, sit or place personal belongings on the sidewalk to include the Midtown area.

If they aren’t hurting anyone, this law seems like nothing but a means to clear homeless simply for being eye sores.

“Homeless people really don’t bother me too much, but I’ve seen people be really quick to judge,” said chemical engineering junior Jose Mora. “You never really know what they’ve been through, and it’s awful when policies are making it harder for them, rather than help out.”

In 2012, Houston City Council passed an outrageous law making it illegal to feed homeless people anywhere on private property.

Mayor Annise Parker has been great for this city, but this is one area where her merits should come into question.

After the 2012 law was passed, Mayor Parker said on KUHF radio’s “Houston Matters” show that “making it easier for someone to stay on the streets is not humane” and that groups who give free food to the hungry “keep them on the street longer, which is what happens when you feed them.”

But when people are deprived of life-sustaining acts such as eating or sleeping, it should be considered unethical and inhumane, no matter what their situation is.

By not feeding a person that needs to be fed, we cannot secure that person will be able to find a job and pay for his food the following day. Humans cannot go weeks without having any form of nourishment.

“Because of the regression, all cities including Houston should be extending an arm to help those that are in need,” said Mora.

Policies and laws that go against that makes us look unsympathetic and just cause negative backlash by many, but it looks like our city is starting to steer towards the right direction.

Parker announced earlier this summer that Houston has effectively ended veteran homelessness.  Over 35 local agencies collaborated to build a nationally-recognized response system that has housed over 3,650 homeless veterans in just over 3 years, and it has the resources to house every homeless veteran (or those at risk) in Harris and Fort Bend Counties.

Some of us may forget to think of the homeless because of our personal feelings towards them, but we need to remember their humanity.

Opinion columnist Rebekah Barquero is a print journalism junior and may be reached at [email protected]

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