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Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Opinion

Criminalizing homelessness doesn’t solve it


Although Houston has passed laws to help people without homes find permanent residence, the city is simultaneously criminalizing homelessness. This contradictory behavior is actually harming those who are supposed to benefit. | Christopher Charleston/The Cougar | Christopher Charleston/The Cougar

Although Houston has passed laws to help people without homes find permanent residence, the city is simultaneously criminalizing homelessness. This contradictory behavior is actually harming those who are supposed to benefit. | Christopher Charleston/The Cougar

Anyone who has spent a little time in Houston knows that there are a lot of homeless people. Being homeless can be dangerous and unsanitary, so there definitely should be laws to help individuals without homes. 

However, Houston’s homelessness laws actually harm homeless people, not the conditions that make them homeless. The city has practically criminalized homelessness, which doesn’t help ayoneone. 

In order to end homelessness, we cannot criminalize it. We need to advocate for better policies that would actually help homeless people find homes and therefore end homelessness.  

Houston seems to think that laws criminalizing homelessness makes it go away. It doesn’t. It just hurts homeless people. 

Laws criminalizing homelessness look like laws banning panhandling, which is a way that a lot of homeless people get money. However, people can legally solicit money in public if it’s on behalf of an organization, but if they’re homeless, it’s illegal. 

Criminalizing homelessness can also look like not allowing people to take up sidewalks, or sleep in tents or other makeshift shelters. Where else are they supposed to sleep?

Criminalizing homelessness also criminalizes people who try to help them.

In 2012, the Houston City Council approved an ordinance that would not allow anyone to distribute food to more than five homeless people without a permit from the city. 

So if you wanted to pick up some extra takeout for a few people you saw panhandling earlier, that would be illegal. 

The ordinance claims it strives to improve the quality of meals for homeless people, but in practice, it just restricts the ways they are able to get food. 

These laws only benefit the tourists and Houstonians who don’t want to see homelessness when they’re shopping downtown. These laws only aim to push homeless people out of places, banning their panhandling and sleeping arrangements. 

Of course, if you’re homeless, you have nowhere else to go, so the laws hurt homeless people while also not tackling the issue of homelessness itself. 

What does tackle the problem of homelessness is actually helping homeless people get their own homes.

Finland had a Housing First policy where they provided everyone with housing so that they could get back on their feet in a safe area. Now, since they launched their policy in 2008, homelessness fell by 35 percent.

Directly providing housing may sound expensive, but a U.S. study found that providing homeless people with homes is actually a much cheaper solution than the cities paying for homeless shelters, food banks, homeless people’s interactions with police and the justice system.

The price that we pay for having homelessness could be lessened if we just provided those in need with homes. 

Houston actually already has a Housing First initiative, but at the same time, they also criminalize homelessness.

It’s great that there is a city plan that prioritizes getting people into housing, but it doesn’t change the fact that Houston still clears out encampments without giving the residents a place to live. 

How effective is Houston’s Housing First policy if homeless people can still be arrested and thrown in jail, keeping them from the housing the city can supposedly provide? It doesn’t make sense. 

While Houston may have some good ideas on how to solve homelessness, they still criminalize it. 

It makes no sense to have policies that help homeless people while also having laws that hurt them.

Ending homelessness will take a long time, even with Housing First. But in the meantime, Houston should at least allow homeless people to exist without the risk of being thrown in jail. 

Unless you’re going to give them a home right now, let them sleep in their tent.

Anna Baker is an English junior who can be reached at [email protected]

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