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More Cities, States Make Public Homelessness Illegal

More cities and states have passed laws making it illegal to live out of tents and cars or sleep in public spaces as homelessness is increasing reports USA Today. More than 100 jurisdictions have had such bans on the books for years, according to the National Homelessness Law Center. In recent months, high-profile measures have been approved targeting homelessness in many western U.S. cities and across entire states. Federal data shows 582,462 people were homeless on a single night in January 2022. Experts warn more people will enter homelessness as housing costs increase, as has long been the case in cities such as New York and in much of California. If visible, unsheltered homelessness continues to grow, city leaders will have an easier time passing measures advocates say criminalize basic needs such as sleep and sheltering, says Eric Tars of the National Homelessness Law Center. "The danger is that the worse the housing situation gets, the more people we see on the streets, the more will be the push for these punitive policies," Tars said. The Los Angeles City Council approved a ban on tent living in certain areas that expanded last August to prohibit encampments within 500 feet of schools and daycare centers after teachers and parents said students couldn't access sidewalks.

These states and cities have passed laws making it illegal to live in tents or sleep on public property: On Jan. 1, a statewide ban on sleeping on state-owned land took effect in Missouri, making it a misdemeanor to sleep in public spaces such as parks or under bridges. Experts say Missouri's law covers the state and adds pressure to municipal bans. It's wrong to assume people experiencing homelessness can leave and go to another state, Tars said. People have an "assumption" that "homeless people are infinitely mobile and they’ll go somewhere else," Tars said. "But most people, contrary to this notion of vagrancy and transience, are homeless in the community where they were once housed." Missouri's law restricts state funding for permanent housing, a model taken from legislation created by the conservative Cicero Institute. Homeless people who are displaced from rural areas are forced to seek temporary services available only in cities, which is straining the system. In July, Tennessee became the first state to make it a felony to live in a tent or sleep on state land. Statewide bans have been introduced in recent years by legislators in five other states. "Policies like this are making homelessness worse," Tars said, because arrest, jail time, and a criminal record put up steep barriers to employment, securing an apartment, and accessing social services. The Portland, Or., City Council approved a plan to ban living in tents and will shift people living in encampments into six city-sanctioned mass encampment sites capped at 250 people. The measure includes plans to build 20,000 additional affordable housing units and eventually would require everyone living on the streets to move into shelters.


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