This is a crime in many places around the United States. Just take a long moment and really thinking about that. A person falling asleep in public as a crime.
No, I mean it: Think about that for a moment. Then take a look at this national report.
What kind of society criminalizes sleep? Try to imagine that.
Did you know that begging in public is also a crime in many cities across the US? How about sleeping in vehicles? Did you know it’s a crime in many places to sleep in your own car?
The city you live in, more than likely, criminalizes homelessness in one way or another. Since the great crash of 2008, homelessness has been on the rise. It’s no mystery that there’s a relationship between the housing crisis and the increase of homelessness. So why isn’t this a high priority? In my experience, people tend to think of problems like homelessness as something that happens to other people. In other words, they don’t see it as a real problem. Some lazy slob doesn’t have a home and they ought to bootstrap themselves into prosperity. People tend to believe we control whether this kind of thing happens to us, thus there’s very low perception of homelessness as a national problem. It’s considered a personal problem.
Most people that are homeless are just like you. Usually they fall on bad times from the lose of a job or a house. Affordable housing is one of the most important factors to observe when predicting where the next homelessness crisis will strike. None of us is untouched by the human suffering of homelessness. You could be homeless tomorrow through no cause of your own. Contrary to the words of prominent politicians, homelessness isn’t something that only affects lazy moochers. Most homeless persons were gainfully employed just before they lost their homes. What this tells us is that a right to work is directly tied to a right to food and shelter.
An increase in unemployment doesn’t have to mean an increase in homelessness if society provides humane safety nets for it’s citizens. But we have people actively lobbying against protecting citizens from the tyranny of companies. There are people who actually believe that we ought to live on the whims of employers. They enforce this by dismantling social services which help citizens who fall on hard times (which happens for any number of reasons like family changes, deaths, illness, unemployment, disabilities, etc). These people say that welfare makes us weak and discourages people from trying. Being poor is therefore seen as a crime.
I ask that you look at the homeless ordinances in your hometown. Learn how your neighborhood treats the least of you. Read up on the statistics of homeless persons near you and learn what’s being done to solve the problem. I won’t ask you to write legislation or attend rallies or even to vote. All I ask is that you learn about the issue in your community. Be aware of how your neighbors are treated and what your city is doing about it. Awareness can go a long ways and it’s a start. Only you can decide what to do with what you know.
For those in the Los Angeles area and California region generally, here’s some resources to help you get up to speed on things in our neighborhood.
- California Assembly Bill 5, “Homeless Bill of Rights Act” (2013-2014 Session Status)
- History of Skid Row (Wikipedia)
- L.A. Homeless Services Authority: Annual Reports
- WRAP Homeless Advocates and Resources
Keep in mind that the distance between shelters can be extremely far, so if you’re looking for shelters and centers you’ll need to look them up locally.