No Safe Place: The Criminalization of Homelessness in U.S. Cities

Imagine a world where it is illegal to sit down. Could you survive if there were no place you were allowed to fall asleep, to store your belongings, or to stand still? For most of us, these scenarios seem unrealistic to the point of being ludicrous. But, for homeless people across America, these circumstances are an ordinary part of daily life.

Homelessness continues to be a national crisis, affecting millions of people each year, including a rising number of families. Homeless people, like all people, must engage in activities such as sleeping or sitting down in order to survive. Yet, in communities across the nation, these harmless, unavoidable behaviors are treated as criminal activity under laws that criminalize homelessness.

This report provides an overview of criminalization measures in effect across the nation and looks at trends in the criminalization of homelessness, based on an analysis of the laws in 187 cities that the Law Center has tracked since 2009. The report further describes why these laws are ineffective in addressing the underlying causes of homelessness, how they are expensive to taxpayers, and how they often violate homeless persons’ constitutional and human rights. Finally, we offer constructive alternatives to criminalization, making recommendations to federal, state, and local governments on how to best address the problem of visible homelessness in a sensible, humane, and legal way.

Publication Date: 
United States