Discrimination against the homeless

Discrimination against the homeless is the act of treating the homeless, or those perceived to be homeless, unfavorably. As with most types of discrimination it can manifest in numerous forms.

Discriminatory legislation regarding homelessness

Use of the law to discriminate against the homeless takes on disparate forms: restricting the public areas in which sitting or sleeping are allowed, ordinances restricting aggressive panhandling,[1] actions intended to divert the homeless from particular areas, penalizing loitering or anti-social behavior,[2] or enforcing laws on the homeless and not on those who are not homeless.[3]

The French novelist Anatole France noted this phenomenon as long ago as 1894, famously observing that "the law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges".[4]

Criminalization of homelessness in the United States

There is a growing trend in the United States towards criminalizing the state of being homeless.[5] Proponents of this approach believe that punitive measures will deter people from a homeless lifestyle.

To this end, cities across the country increasingly outlaw life-sustaining activities—such as sleeping, eating, sitting, and begging—in public spaces, and selectively enforce more neutral laws—such as those prohibiting open containers or loitering—against homeless populations.[5]

Violators of such laws typically incur criminal penalties, which result in fines or incarceration or both. Homeless people with new "criminal charges" have very restrictive housing and employment options, if either, for years.

In April 2006 the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that "making it a crime to be homeless by charging them with a crime is in violation of the 8th and 14th Amendments."[6]