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November 05, 2015

Advocates Say Tide Turning on City Laws Targeting Homeless

Antipoverty activists say they are seeing signs of a retrenchment in U.S. cities' pursuit of ordinances that restrict sleeping outdoors or feeding people in public, measures activists contend are aimed at curbing homelessness by criminalizing it, NPR reports. While some cities continue to pursue such laws, federal intervention on the issue may be "turning the ship around," said Maria Foscarinis, executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty.

In August the U.S. Justice Department filed a brief backing the law center in a court challenge to a Boise, Idaho, anticamping statute. The Department of Housing and Urban Development has said it will consider communities' efforts to prevent criminalization of homelessness in awarding $1.9 billion in upcoming homeless-assistance grants.

In addition, several California jurisdictions have stopped enforcing anticamping measures and are weighing alternatives. Colorado cities Denver, Boulder, and Colorado Springs suspended panhandling restrictions after a federal judge ruled one such law violated free-speech rights.

Activists say they recognize problems created for communities by homeless people sleeping, eating, and sometimes relieving themselves in public, but the answer lies in providing housing, not banning behaviors tied to homelessness. In another article, NPR reports on a trend of building higher-quality, less-shelter-like residences for homeless and low-income people.