By: Nyoko Brown
There is an alarming rate of people who view homelessness as an "invasive and suspicious presence" near their residence rather than as a life threatening crisis to those experiencing it. Many request law enforcement for crimes that are referred to as “quality of life crimes,” which historically have increased the policing of homeless individuals (INCITE!, 2018). A quality of life crime includes actions such as sleeping, urinating, and congregating in public spaces (INCITE!, 2018). Policies like these directly exploit the fact that many of the ways for surviving homelessness depend on having safe public spaces to exist.
The article Engaging unhoused community members in the design of an alternative first responder program aimed at reducing the criminalization of homelessness effectively links the criminalization of homelessness with its continuation. The article outlines a number of safety risks associated with the increased interactions between the unhoused and law enforcement. For example, encampment sweeps are a large stressor and sleep disturbance and often lead people into less safe resting areas. Additionally, increasing police interaction increases arrests made. It will only become that much harder to lessen homelessness, as arrest history is a predictor of longer episodes of homelessness (Townley et al., 2021). Time and personal documentation may be lost in the process, not to mention there are fees associated with being arrested that many cannot pay. Those deemed "quality of life crimes" are nonviolent and often don’t infringe upon the people requesting law enforcement. Such policies are a discriminatory practice, as they are unnecessary and additional barriers to housing and employment.
As members of an increasingly inclusive community, it is imperative to change the language and attitudes surrounding homelessness to not perpetuate a criminalizing mentality. Awareness of policies that exist almost exclusively to persecute unhoused people can be used as a guide for when and how it is actually appropriate to interfere with affairs regarding the housing crisis.
Quality of Life Policing. INCITE! (2018, August 2). Retrieved October 31, 2021, from https://incite-national.org/quality-of-life-policing/.
Townley, G., Sand, K., Kindschuh, T., Brott, H., & Leickly, E. (2021, May 18). Engaging unhoused community members in the design of an alternative first responder program aimed at reducing the criminalization of homelessness. Wiley Online Library. Retrieved October 31, 2021, from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/jcop.22601?casa_token=kqZQ12pWoPgAAAAA%3A8UktFOBru4KYhkgiz8KaBJqLPwq4CD-NdPhrggDfXnwsqZH-3v0Yzgc1QOXoMHOZujb-kG3hweXudQ.