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Advocates Condemn the Crackdown on Homelessness Encampments

Tent encampments are now spreading across the U.S. as the federal count of homeless people reached 580,000 last year, driven by a lack of affordable housing, a pandemic that economically wrecked households, and a lack of access to mental health and addiction treatment. Records obtained by The Associated Press show attempts to clear encampments as public pressure grew to address what some residents say are dangerous and unsanitary living conditions. But despite tens of millions of dollars spent in recent years, there appears to be little reduction in the number of tents. Homeless people and their advocates say the sweeps are cruel and a waste of taxpayer money. They say the answer is more housing, not crackdowns. “We are seeing an increase in these laws at the state and local level that criminalize homelessness, and it’s really a misguided reaction to this homelessness crisis,” said Scout Katovich, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, which has filed lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of sweeps and property seizures in a dozen cities.

For homeless people, sweeps are traumatizing. They often lose identification documents, as well as cellphones, laptops and personal items. They also lose their connection to a community they’ve come to rely on for support. Many cities say they link camp residents to housing, but track records are mixed. Homeless people and their advocates say there are not nearly enough temporary beds, permanent housing, or social services for drug or behavioral health counseling so people caught up in sweeps just get kicked down the road. In New York City, more than 2,300 people were forcibly removed from encampments from March to November 2022, according to a June report from Comptroller Brad Lander. Only 119 accepted temporary shelters, and just three eventually got permanent housing. Meanwhile, tent encampments had returned to a third of the sites surveyed. “They just totally failed to connect people to shelter or to housing,” Lander, who opposes sweeps, said. “If you’re gonna help them, you have to build trust with them to move them into housing and services. The sweeps really went in the opposite direction.”


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