Last week, the city council of Manteca, CA unanimously passed two ordinances aimed at clearing out the homeless population.
One will ban people from sleeping or setting up encampments on any public or private property as of December 4, although the homeless won’t be jailed or fined. It will, however, allow the police to tear down any homeless sleeping areas as soon as they appear without having to be invited by the property owner, as was the case previously.
Explaining why the ordinance is necessary, Police Chief Nick Obligacion said, “The goal is actually to correct the wrong. So, if the correction is them leaving Manteca, then that’s their choice.” He also opposes any sort of shelter for the homeless.
The other ordinance bans public urination and defecation, but also comes after the city temporarily closed public restrooms in a park, a location often used by the homeless to relieve themselves in private.
Manteca is only the latest American city to respond to the problem of mass homelessness by criminalizing it. In 187 cities across the country, there has been an uptick in every kind of ordinance aimed at making it illegal to be homeless, such as banning people from lying down or having possessions with them as in Fort Lauderdale, FL; prohibiting people from sitting or lying down on sidewalks, such as in Honolulu, HI; or making it illegal to sleep in public, such as in Palo Alto, CA. Manteca’s ban on encampments is widespread, as 34 percent of cities have bans on camping in public, a 60 percent increase from 2011.
Some have even made it illegal to help the homeless: 13 cities have restricted where people can give them food, and one 90-year-old man in Fort Lauderdale has been arrested for doing just that. And others look as if they are trying to simply ship the homeless elsewhere, as in Waikiki, HI, where 120 homeless people will be given one-way plane tickets to the mainland, or San Diego, CA, which considered giving them one-way bus tickets.
But cities that have actually ended homelessness take a very different approach. Phoenix, AZ and Salt Lake City, UT have both ended chronic homelessness among veterans using a “housing first” approach that aims to get the homeless into a home before addressing other issues like mental illness, addiction, or job training. In fact, if the country either gave everyone who needed it adequate rental assistance and/or built enough affordable housing to fill the 5.5 million unit shortage, it could effectively end homelessness once and for all.