Policies are being enacted all over the United States that directly affect the countries’ most powerless residents, the homeless. In this paper I will look at three different policies that have recently been enacted in various parts of the country and discuss their possible effects, efficiencies and inefficiencies when viewed through the eyes of a homeless person. I will look at hate-crime laws in Maryland, sit-lie ordinances in Portland, Oregon and finally schooling options for homeless children in Tampa, Florida.
When thinking of the types of policies that are generally aimed towards the homeless one may think of policies related to housing, and substance abuse issues; but Maryland has taken different approach to helping their homeless population within their state by extending hate-crime laws to protect the homeless. These protections will allow prosecutors to seek more severe penalties for those who target people because they are homeless. Maryland is the first state in the Nation to extend their hate-crimes law to this particular outgroup, however similar bills are being looked at in California, Texas and Ohio (Nuckols, 2009).
In 2007 there were 160 documented attacks on homeless persons, this was the highest number of attacks since the National Coalition for the Homeless started collecting data in 1999 (Nuckols, 2009). With hate-crimes against the homeless on the rise nationwide it is important to protect this population from unprovoked violent crimes, however this seems that it may be more of a feel good measure than an actual deterrent in most cases. In order for a case to be heard, and a crime charged as a hate crime, the crime will have to be reported to and investigated by the police, an arrest must be made and the attacker must be proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt by a jury of his peers. This requires the police, attorneys, judge and jury to take the victim seriously, which I am sad to say may not happen as often as it should when the victim is a homeless person. Also, unless a Pubic Interest Group becomes involved with the case the victim will most likely have a public defender who may not want to take the extra effort to contact his client if the client is not staying at a shelter or hospital where he would have access to a telephone. Sadly, it is my opinion that there may be too many misconceptions and stereotypes about homeless people for this law to have much effect at this moment in time. That is not to say that laws such as these should not be passed and enforced but I think there is still much work to be done before it will be effective in preventing hate crimes against the homeless. What I think would be more effective in preventing hate crimes against the homeless would be some sort of public awareness measures that kicks the stereotypes that all homeless people are dangerous, or on crack or so far gone mentally that they cannot be helped. Homeless persons need to be rehumanized by the media and police so that the average person will have more compassion and less fear.
Oregon, on the other hand is taking two pronged approach with recent homeless oriented policies by coupling sidewalk restrictions with day centers for the homeless. The city of Portland is looking at renewing a sit-lie ordinance that prohibits sitting or lying on sidewalks between the hours of 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. but the city council members are hesitant to renew the ordinance until a day center is built and other fairness issues are addressed. Currently, the day center, which is to provide services as well as a place for the cities homeless to go during the day, is on hold due to the Friends of Urban Renewal group filing suit against the city concerning the day center. The ruling in the case was that the city had to show evidence of “blight” to justify the expansion of the urban renewal area. To get around this ruling the city government is trying to find new means to pay for the day center (Mayer, 2009).
The Portland City Council seems to be doing the right thing here by only agreeing to extend this ordinance should there be a place for the homeless residents of the city to go during those hours. It would be naive to think that should the day center be built, every homeless person in the city would flock to it and there would never be another panhandler on the streets of Portland again; but this program would help the people who want to get back on their feet get the services they need. The news article was vague in defining what services would be provided at the day center, but without providing somewhere for the homeless people of the city to go between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. this sit-lie ordinance would be extraordinarily harsh. Fining homeless persons up to $250 an instance for sitting on lying on the sidewalk or in other public walkways would not help solve the homeless issues or even provide more income for the city because there will be a slim number of homeless persons who will have the money to pay such an exorbitant fine for sitting.
Mayer, J. (2009, April 27). Homeless center stalled in urban renewal dispute over “sit-lie” ordinance. The Oregonian Retrieved June 02, 2009, from HYPERLINK ” http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2009/04/homeless_center_stalled_in_urb.html “
Nuckols, B. (2009, May 8). Homeless in Md. get hate-crime protection. Philadelphia Inquirer Retrieved May 21, 2009, from HYPERLINK ” http://www.philly.com/inquirer/world_us/20090508_Homeless_in_Md__get_hate-crime_protection.html “
Orr, S. (2008, December 11) Food Not Bombs keeps ladling soup, despite legal hurdles. Orlando Sentinel Retrieved June 23, 2009, from HYPERLINK ” http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/education/orl-unews-food-not-bombs-121108,0,5291342.story “