the Courts The Law and the Homeless - A Law Concerning The Education Ofhomeless Children, Restrictive Ordinances, Alternative Strategies, Constitutional Rights, Homeless Court
people public laws gentrification
The process of renewal and rebuilding that accompanies an influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas is called gentrification. It typically displaces earlier—and usually poorer—residents, and often destroys ethnic communities (Tom Wetzel, "What Is Gentrification?" 2004, http://www.uncanny.net/~wetzel/gentry.htm). While gentrification has positive aspects—reduced crime, new investment in the community, and increased economic activity—these benefits are generally enjoyed by the newcomers while the existing residents are marginalized. When a neighborhood is gentrified, the visible homeless come to be seen as a blight on the quality of life of the new residents. The homeless can drive away tourists and frustrate the proprietors of area businesses. The widening gap between the haves and the have-nots in American society is evident in the plight of homeless people. As more and more privately owned, federally subsidized apartment buildings and former "skid rows" were gentrified during the economic boom of the 1990s, more of the poorest people were forced into homelessness.
Recent years have seen an increase in the enactment of laws and ordinances intended to regulate the activities of homeless people. Moreover, in some areas homeless children even found themselves placed outside the regular public school system and segregated in special schools for the homeless. Advocates for the homeless contend that such practices deny the homeless their most basic human, legal, and political rights.
Some local ordinances prevent the homeless from sleeping on the streets or in parks, although there may not be enough shelter beds to accommodate every homeless person every night. The homeless may be turned out of shelters to fend for themselves during the day, yet local ordinances prevent them from loitering in public places or resting in bus stations, libraries, or public buildings. Begging or picking up cans for recycling may help the homeless to support themselves, yet often there are restrictions against panhandling (begging) or limits on the number of cans they can redeem. To see the homeless bathe or use the toilet in public makes people uncomfortable; consequently, laws are passed to prohibit such activities.
Are the homeless targeted by these laws and consequently denied their civil rights? Do such ordinances criminalize homelessness by singling out the minority (the unhoused) but not the majority (the housed)? For example, drinking alcoholic beverages in public is illegal, but the police may selectively enforce the law against street people while ignoring other drinkers, such as tourists. Ordinances disallowing life-sustaining activities performed by homeless individuals may be said to exclude the homeless from equal protection under the law.
Most measures regulating the behavior of the homeless are enacted at the community level. Sometimes the most restrictive of these laws have been challenged in federal court on the grounds that they violate the rights of the homeless people they seek to regulate. For example, a federal court may be asked to determine whether begging or panhandling is considered protected conduct under the First Amendment (freedom of speech).