Homelessness in the United States

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A homeless man outside the United Nations building in New York

Homelessness is a social crisis in the United States. According to the McKinney–Vento Homeless Assistance Act, homeless people are those who "lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence".

Homelessness emerged as a national issue in the 1870s.[1] Many homeless people lived in emerging urban cities, such as New York City. Into the 20th Century, the Great Depression of the 1930s caused a devastating epidemic of poverty, hunger, and homelessness. There were two million homeless people migrating across the United States. In the 1970s, the de-institutionalization of patients from state psychiatric hospitals was a precipitating factor which seeded the homeless population.

The number of homeless people grew in the 1980s, as housing and social service cuts increased. After many years of advocacy and numerous revisions, President Ronald Reagan signed into law the McKinney–Vento Homeless Assistance Act in 1987—this remains the only piece of federal legislation that allocates funding to the direct service of homeless people. Over the past decades, the availability and quality of data on homelessness has improved considerably. About 1.56 million people, or about 0.5% of the U.S. population, used an emergency shelter or a transitional housing program between October 1, 2008 and September 30, 2009.[2] Homelessness in the United States increased after the Great Recession in the United States.

One out of 50 children or 1.5 million children in United States of America will be homeless each year.[3] In 2013 that number jumped to one out of 30 children, or 2.5 million.[4] There were an estimated 57,849 homeless veterans estimated in the United States during January 2013, or 12 percent of all homeless adults. Just under 8 percent of homeless U.S. veterans are female. Texas, California and Florida have the highest numbers of unaccompanied homeless youth under the age of 18, comprising 58% of the total homeless under 18 youth population.[5] Homelessness affects men more than women. At least 70% to 85% of all homeless are men.[6][6]

Because of turnover in the homeless population, the total number of people who experience homelessness for at least a few nights during the course of a year is thought to be considerably higher than point-in-time counts. A 2000 study estimated the number of such people to be between 2.3 million and 3.5 million.[7][8] According to Amnesty International USA, vacant houses outnumber homeless people by five times.[9]

Causes of homelessness in the United States include lack of affordable housing, divorce, lawful eviction, negative cash flow, post traumatic stress disorder, foreclosure, fire, natural disasters (hurricane, earthquake, or flood), mental illness, physical disability, no family, substance abuse, lack of needed services, no unearned income (such as pension, Social Security, stock dividends, reverse mortgage, or annuity), poverty (no net worth), gambling, unemployment, and low-paying jobs. Homelessness in the United States affects many segments of the population, including families, children, domestic violence victims, ex-convicts, veterans, the aged, and others. Efforts to assist the homeless have included federal legislation, non-profit efforts, increased access to healthcare services, affordable housing, among others.


Historical background[edit]

Pre-colonial and colonial periods[edit]

Following the Peasants' Revolt in England, constables were authorized under 1383 English Poor Laws statute to collar vagabonds and force them to show support; if they could not, the penalty was gaol.[10] Vagabonds could be sentenced to the stocks for three days and nights; in 1530, whipping was added. The presumption was that vagabonds were unlicensed beggars.[10] In 1547, a bill was passed that subjected vagrants to some of the more extreme provisions of the criminal law, namely two years servitude and branding with a "V" as the penalty for the first offense and death for the second. Large numbers of vagabonds were among the convicts transported to the American colonies in the 18th century.[11]


The Bowery Mission at 36 Bowery in New York City in the 1880s

Homelessness emerged as a national issue in the 1870s.(The author fails to mention that majority of the homeless were freed slaves that were oftentimes were refused fair jobs and opportunity after the Civil War.)[1] There are no national figures documenting the homeless demography at this time.[1] Jacob Riis wrote about, documented, and photographed the poor and destitute, although not specifically the homeless, in New York City tenements in the late 19th century. His ground-breaking book, How the Other Half Lives, published in 1890, raised public awareness of living conditions in the slums, causing some changes in building codes and some social conditions.

The growing movement toward social concern sparked the development of rescue missions, such as America's first rescue mission, the New York City Rescue Mission, founded in 1872 by Jerry and Maria McAuley.[12][13] In smaller towns, there were hobos, who temporarily lived near train tracks and hopped onto trains to various destinations. Especially following the American Civil War, a large number of homeless men formed part of a counterculture known as "hobohemia" all over America.[14][15]

During this time, many towns and cities had an area which contained the homeless. In New York City, for example, there was an area known as "the Bowery." Rescue missions offering "soup, soap, and salvation", a phrase introduced by The Salvation Army,[16] sprang up along the Bowery thoroughfare, including the oldest one, The Bowery Mission. The mission was founded in 1879 by the Rev. and Mrs. A.G. Ruliffson.[17]

20th century[edit]

Unemployed men outside a soup kitchen opened by Al Capone in Depression-era Chicago, Illinois, the US, 1931.

The Great Depression of the 1930s caused a devastating epidemic of poverty, hunger, and homelessness. There were two million homeless people migrating across the United States.[18] Many lived in shantytowns they called "Hoovervilles". Residents lived in shacks and begged for food or went to soup kitchens. Authorities did not officially recognize these Hoovervilles and occasionally removed the occupants for technically trespassing on private lands, but they were frequently tolerated out of necessity.

A 1960 survey by Temple University of Philadelphia's poor neighborhoods found that 75 percent of the homeless were over 45 years old, and 87 percent were white.[19]

The Community Mental Health Act of 1963 was a pre-disposing factor in setting the stage for homelessness in the United States.[20] Long term psychiatric patients were released from state hospitals into Single Room Occupancies and sent to community health centers for treatment and follow-up. It never quite worked out properly and this population largely was found living in the streets soon thereafter with no sustainable support system.[21][22] In the United States, during the late 1970s, the deinstitutionalization of patients from state psychiatric hospitals was a precipitating factor which seeded the homeless population, especially in urban areas such as New York City.[23]

Great Fire of 1911 with homeless man

1980s and 1990s[edit]

Homeless Advocate Mitch Snyder, Actor Martin Sheen, Boston Mayor Raymond L. Flynn

The number of homeless people grew in the 1980s, as housing and social service cuts increased and the economy deteriorated. The United States government determined that somewhere between 200,000 and 500,000 Americans were then homeless.[24] There were some U.S. federal initiatives that aimed to help, end and prevent homelessness, however, there were no designated homeless-related programs in the Office of Management and Budget.[25]

The History of the United States (1980–1991) illustrates that this was a time when there was economic distress, high unemployment, and was the period when chronic homelessness became a societal problem. In 1980, federal funds accounted for 22% of big city budgets, but by 1989 the similar aid composed only 6% of urban revenue (part of a larger 60% decrease in federal spending to support local governments).[26] It is largely (although not exclusively) in these urban areas that homelessness became widespread and reached unprecedented numbers. Most notable were cuts to federal low-income housing programs. An advocacy group claims that Congress halved the budget for public housing and Section 8 (the government's housing voucher subsidization program) and that between the years of 1980 and 1989 HUD's budget authority was reduced from $74 billion to $19 billion.[26] Such alleged changes is claimed to have resulted in an inadequate supply of affordable housing to meet the growing demand of low-income populations. In 1970 there were 300,000 more low-cost rental units (6.5 million) than low-income renter households (6.2 million). By 1985, the advocacy group claimed that the number of low-cost units had fallen to 5.6 million, and the number of low-income renter households had grown to 8.9 million, a disparity of 3.3 million units[27]

In response to the ensuing homelessness crisis of the 1980s, concerned citizens across the country[who?] demanded that the federal government provide assistance. After many years of advocacy and numerous revisions, President Reagan signed into law the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act in 1987—this remains the only piece of federal legislation that allocates funding to the direct service of homeless people. The McKinney-Vento Act paved the way for service providers in the coming years. During the 1990s homeless shelters, soup kitchens, and other supportive services sprouted up in cities and towns across the nation. However, despite these efforts and the dramatic economic growth marked by this decade, homeless numbers remained stubbornly high. It became increasingly apparent that simply providing services to alleviate the symptoms of homelessness (i.e. shelter beds, hot meals, psychiatric counseling, etc.), although needed, were not successful at solving the root causes of homelessness. The United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH),a federal agency contained in the Executive Branch, was established in 1987 as a requirement of the McKinney-Vento Act of 1987.

21st century[edit]

Homeless Veteran in New York.jpeg

Improved data[edit]

Over the past decades, the availability and quality of data on homelessness has improved considerably, due, in part, to initiatives by the United States government. Since 2007, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development has issued an Annual Homeless Assessment Report, which revealed the number of individuals and families that were homeless, both sheltered and unsheltered.[28] In 2009, There were about 643,000 sheltered and unsheltered homeless persons nationwide. About two-thirds of those stayed in emergency shelters or used transitional housing programs, with the remaining living on the street in abandoned buildings or other areas not meant for human habitation. About 1.56 million people, or about 0.5% of the U.S. population, used an emergency shelter or a transitional housing program between October 1, 2008 and September 30, 2009.[2] Around 44% of homeless people were employed.[29]

According to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development's 2008 Annual Homeless Assessment Report, the most common demographic features of all sheltered homeless people are: male, members of minority groups, older than age 31, and alone. More than 40 percent of sheltered homeless people have a disability. At the same time, sizable segments of the sheltered homeless population are white, non-Hispanic (38 percent), children (20 percent), or part of multi-person households (33 percent). Approximately 68 percent of the 1.6 million sheltered homeless people were homeless as individuals and 32 percent were persons in families.[30]

In 2008 more than 66 percent of all sheltered homeless people were located in principal cities, with 32 percent located in suburban or rural jurisdictions. About 40 percent of people entering an emergency shelter or transitional housing program during 2008 came from another homeless situation (sheltered or unsheltered), 40 percent came from a housed situation (in their own or someone else's home), and the remaining 20 percent were split between institutional settings or other situations such as hotels or motels. Most people had relatively short lengths of stay in emergency shelters: 60 percent stayed less than a month, and a 33 percent stayed a week or less.[30]


"In 2004 the United States Conference of Mayors... surveyed the mayors of major cities on the extent and causes of urban homelessness and most of the mayors named the lack of affordable housing as a cause of homelessness.... The next three causes identified by mayors, in rank order, were mental illness or the lack of needed services, substance abuse and lack of needed services, and low-paying jobs. The lowest ranking cause, cited by five mayors, was prisoner reentry. Other causes cited were unemployment, domestic violence, and poverty."

The major causes of homelessness include:[31][32][33][34][35][36]

  • The failure of urban housing projects to provide safe, secure, and affordable housing to the poor.[31][32][35][36] Additionally, many workers cannot afford to live where they work, and even in moderately priced communities housing costs require a large portion of household income.[37]
  • The deinstitutionalization movement from the 1950s onwards in state mental health systems, to shift towards 'community-based' treatment of the mentally ill, as opposed to long-term commitment in institutions.[31][32][35][36] There is disproportionally higher prevalence of mental disorders relative to other disease groups within homeless patient populations at both inpatient hospitals and hospital-based emergency departments.[38]
  • Redevelopment and gentrification activities instituted by cities across the country through which low-income neighborhoods are declared blighted and demolished to make way for projects that generate higher property taxes and other revenue, creating a shortage of housing affordable to low-income working families, the elderly poor, and the disabled.[31][32][35][36]
  • The failure of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to provide effective mental health care and meaningful job training for many homeless veterans, particularly those of the Vietnam War.[39] This has been met by efforts of related NGOs: The Wounded Warriors Project, National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, and Center for American Homeless Veterans, to alleviate the problem.
  • Deprived of normal childhoods, nearly half of foster children in the United States become homeless when they are released from foster care at age 18.[40][41]
  • Natural disasters that destroy homes: hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, etc. Places of employment are often destroyed too, causing unemployment and transience.[42]
  • People who have served time in prison, have abused drugs and alcohol, or have a history of mental illness find it difficult to impossible to find employment for years at a time because of the use of computer background checks by potential employers. Also inclusive of registered sex offenders who are considered unwelcome in some metropolitan areas. See prisoner reentry.[43]
  • According to the Institution of Housing in 2005, the U.S. Government has focused 42% more on foreign countries rather than homeless Americans, including homeless veterans.[31][32][35][36]
  • People who are hiding in order to evade law enforcement.[31][32][35][36]
  • Adults and children who flee domestic violence.[31][32][35][36]
  • Teenagers who flee or are thrown out by parents who disapprove of their child's sexual orientation or gender identity. A 2010 study by the Center for American Progress shows that a disproportionately high number of homeless youth (between 20–40%) identify as LGBTQ.[44]
  • Overly complex building code that makes it difficult for most people to build. Traditional huts, cars, and tents are illegal, classified as substandard and may be removed by government, even though the occupant may own the land. Land owner cannot live on the land cheaply, and so sells the land and becomes homeless.[31][32][35][36]
  • Foreclosures of homes, including foreclosure of apartment complexes which displaces tenants renting there.[45]
  • Evictions from rented property.[45]
  • Lack of support from friends or family.[31][32][35][36]
  • Individuals who prefer homelessness and wish to remain off the grid for political and ideological purposes. Often self-identified as Gutter Punks or Urban Survivalists. The Department of Housing and Urban Development rarely reports on this counter-cultural movement since Gutter Punks and similar individuals often refuse to participate in governmental studies and do not seek governmental assistance for ideological or political purposes.[46]
  • Lack of resources in place in the communities to help aid in prevention of homelessness before it becomes a crisis.[31][32][35][36]
  • Neoliberal reforms to the welfare state and the retrenchment of the social safety net.[47]

Federal legislation[edit]

In response to the Great Recession in the United States, President Obama signed several pieces of legislation that addressed the homelessness crisis. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 addressed homelessness prevention, in which he allocated an additional $1.5 billion to HUD for the "Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Rehousing Program (HPRP)." The purpose of HPRP was to assist individuals and families who are otherwise healthy and not chronically homeless in escaping homelessness or preventing homelessness of the vulnerable population.[48][49] On May 20, 2009, President Obama signed the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing (HEARTH) Act into Public Law (Public Law 111-22 or "PL 111-22"), reauthorizing HUD's Homeless Assistance programs. It was part of the Helping Families Save Their Homes Act of 2009. The HEARTH act allows for the prevention of homelessness, rapid re-housing, consolidation of housing programs, and new homeless categories.[50][51][52][53]

In the first year of the new decade, the Federal government launched of Opening Doors: The Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness.[54][55] Opening Doors is a publication of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, which worked with all Federal agencies and many state and local stakeholders on its creation and vision, setting a ten-year path for the nation on preventing and ending all types of homelessness. This Plan was presented to the President and Congress in a White House Ceremony on June 22, 2010.[56]

Continued crisis[edit]

Homeless man soliciting employment, Ypsilanti, Michigan

According to the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the demand for emergency shelter in 270 U.S. cities increased 13 percent in 2001 and 25 percent in 2005.[31][32] 22 percent of those requesting emergency shelter were turned away.

Into 2016, homelessness is considered an epidemic in several American cities. "Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and seven of the 15 City Council members announced they would declare a state of emergency and try to find $100 million to cure what has become a municipal curse." [57] Homelessness in New York City has tripled since January 2000, from approximately 20,000 people using provided nightly shelter services to more than 60,000 in January 2015.[58] These counts do not include those persons who choose to stay away from shelter providers.

Definitions and categories[edit]

Homeless man in the East Village, New York City.

The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development acknowledges four categories of people who qualify as legally homeless: (1) those who are currently homeless, (2) those who will become homeless in the imminent future, (3) certain youths and families with children who suffer from home instability caused by a hardship, and (4) those who suffer from home instability caused by domestic violence.[59]

According to the Stewart B. McKinney Act, 42 U.S.C. § 11301, et seq. (1994), a person is considered homeless if they "lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence and ... has a primary nighttime residency that is: (A) a supervised publicly or privately operated shelter designed to provide temporary living accommodations... (B) an institution that provides a temporary residence for individuals intended to be institutionalized, or (C) a public or private place not designed for, or ordinarily used as, a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings." Human Rights Watch (2010) identified emancipated teenagers in California as a new homeless population.

Homeless veterans[edit]

Marines and Sailors sort and organize hundreds of clothing items at the New England Center for Homeless Veterans. Best friend shirts The service members spent the day serving meals and eating with many of Boston's veterans during Boston Navy Week. Boston Navy Week is one of 15 signature events planned across America in 2012. The eight-day long event commemorates the Bicentennial of the War of 1812, hosting service members from the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard and coalition ships from around the world. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Marco Mancha/Released)

Homeless veterans are persons who have served in the armed forces who are homeless or living without access to secure and appropriate accommodation. There were an estimated 57,849 homeless veterans estimated in the United States during January 2013; or 12 percent of all homeless adults. Just under 8 percent of homeless U.S. veterans are female. Texas, California and Florida have the highest numbers of unaccompanied homeless youth under the age of 18; comprising 58% of the total homeless under 18 youth population [5]

Throughout the 21st Century, homeless service providers and the Federal government have been able to reduce chronic homelessness and homelessness among Veterans with targeted efforts and interagency cooperation on initiatives like the HUD-VASH program.[60]

Youth homelessness[edit]

Further information: Youth homelessness
Homeless children in the United States[61] The number of homeless children reached record highs in 2011,[62] 2012,[63] and 2013[64] at about three times their number in 1983.[63]

The number of homeless children in the US grew from 1.2 million in 2007 to 1.6 million in 2010. The United States defines homelessness per McKinney–Vento Homeless Assistance Act.[65][definition needed]The number of homeless children reached record highs in 2011,[62] 2012,[63] and 2013[64] at about three times their number in 1983.[63] An "estimated two million [youth] run away from or are forced out of their homes each year" in the United States.[66] The difference in these numbers can be attributed to the temporary nature of street children in the United States, unlike the more permanent state in developing countries.

One out of 50 children or 1.5 million children in United States of America will be homeless each year.[3] In 2013 that number jumped to one out of 30 children, or 2.5 million.[4]

Street children in the United States tend to stay in the state, 83% do not leave their state of origin.[67] If they leave, street children are likely to end up in large cities, notably New York City, Los Angeles, Portland, Oregon, and San Francisco.[68] Street children are predominantly Caucasian and female in the United States, and 42% identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT).[69]

The United States government has been making efforts since the late 1970s to accommodate this section of the population. The Runaway and Homeless Youth Act of 1978 made funding available for shelters and funded the National Runaway Switchboard. Other efforts include the Child Abuse and Treatment Act of 1974, the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System, and the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act.[70] There has also been a decline of arrest rates in street youth, dropping in 30,000 arrests from 1998 to 2007. Instead, the authorities are referring homeless youth to state-run social service agencies.[71]

College youth[edit]

The homeless college youth accounts for over one million of the young homeless population.[72] According to the Free Application Federal Student Aid, also known as FAFSA, in 2013, over 58,000 students identified as homeless on their application.[72] "The federal government defines these unaccompanied homeless youth (UHY) as individuals who do not have "fixed, regular and adequate" housing and who are "not in the physical custody of a parent or adult."[73] The McKinney Vento Act is considered the key piece of federal legislation pertaining to educational support for homeless children and teens.[74] The causes of homelessness varies from student to student. There are two types of homeless college students: 1. students that are homeless upon entering college and 2. students who become homeless during college.[74] For the youth that become homeless upon entering college, this situation represents the students that are having trouble sustaining housing due to job loss of their parent or guardian, the lack of a parent or guardian or because youth has been asked to leave the home or decided to runaway.[75] The reasons for a college youth to become homeless while attending college are as follows: unable to sustain the financial expenses for housing and food. Secondly, by having the financial support given by family revoked.[74] Fortunately, there are programs available at state colleges and universities that provide students with the necessary resources to obtain financial and housing stability and sustainability. There are also organizations such as the National Association For The Education Of Homeless Children and Youth (NAEHCY) that advocate for a higher education so the children and youth can fulfil their dreams.[76] Another innovative model that can be of great help to college students experiencing homelessness is Single Stop USA, which operates in community colleges to help connect low-income students to the resources they need, including housing, to not only stay in school but to excel[77]

LGBT youth[edit]

Research shows that a disproportionate amount of homeless youth in the United States identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, or LGBT.[78] Researchers suggest that this is primarily a result of hostility or abuse from the youth's families leading to eviction or running away. In addition, LGBT youth are often at greater risk for certain dangers while homeless, including being the victims of crime, risky sexual behavior, substance abuse, and mental health concerns. LGBT homeless youth experience limited access to emergency housing options that affirm their sexual orientation and/or gender identity, and according to a Note for the Family Court Review recommending policies regarding such housing options, as many as fifty percent of LGBT youth in emergency housing programs may be physically assaulted, a proportion further exacerbated at large shelters that house two hundred or more youth. In addition, homeless youth emergency housing programs may lead to the denial of services to LGBT youth under the religious aspects of this orientation of the individuals.

Homeless families[edit]

The 2000s saw a new population of those experiencing homelessness: families with children. While an emerging problem at the beginning of the decade,[79] the problem continued to persist through 2010. At the close of the decade the trend continued unabated, with the number of individuals in homeless families increasing from 431,541 in 2007 to 535,447 in 2009.[60]

Juxtaposition of homeless and well off is common on Broadway, New York City.

Efforts to assist the homeless[edit]

Helping the homeless.jpg

The homeless community of the United States is aided by governmental and non-governmental organizations.


Homeless individuals report a lack of affordable housing as the number one reason for becoming homeless.[80] Many non-profit organizations are in operation to serve this need—for example, the National Low Income Housing Coalition—but most lack the funding necessary to create enough housing. Several proposed policy measures are designed to secure such funding, such as the National Housing Trust Fund, but these have not been signed into law.

The two main types of housing programs provided for homeless people are transitional and permanent housing. Transitional housing programs are operated with one goal in mind – to help individuals and families obtain permanent housing as quickly as possible. Transitional housing programs assist homeless for a fixed amount of time or until they are able to obtain housing on their own and function successfully in the community, or whichever comes first.[81][82][83]

Some shelters and associated charitable foundations have bought buildings and real estate to develop into permanent housing for the homeless in lieu of transitional Housing.[84]

The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development and Veterans Administration have a special Section 8 housing voucher program called VASH (Veterans Administration Supported Housing), or HUD-VASH, which gives out a certain number of Section 8 subsidized housing vouchers to eligible homeless and otherwise vulnerable US armed forces veterans.[85] The HUD-VASH program has been successful in housing many homeless veterans.[86]

Housing First has met with success since its initial implementations in 2009 by providing relatively no strings-attached housing to homeless people with substance abuse problems or mental health issues. Housing First allows homeless men and women to be taken directly off the street into private community-based apartments, without requiring treatment first. This allows the homeless to return to some sense of normalcy, from which it is believed that they are better-poised to tackle their addictions or sicknesses. The relapse rate through these types of programs is lower than that of conventional homeless programs.[87][88]

Housing First was initiated by the federal government's Interagency Council on Homelessness. It asks cities to come up with a plan to end chronic homelessness under the assumption that if homeless people are given independent housing immediately with some social and financial support, then there will be reduced needs for emergency homeless shelters.[89][90]

Comprehensive health care[edit]

Homeless individuals report mental illness as being the number three reason for becoming or staying homeless.[80] Such illnesses are often closely linked with the fourth reason—substance abuse—and therefore it is generally accepted that both of these issues should be treated simultaneously. Although many medical, psychiatric, and counseling services exist to address these needs, it is commonly believed that without the support of reliable and stable housing such treatments remain ineffective. Furthermore, in the absence of a universal health-care plan, many of those in need cannot afford such services. Proposed legislation such as the Bringing America Home Act are intended to provide comprehensive treatment for many homeless mental and substance abuse patients.


There are several policies dealing with homelessness. In 1980 the government decided to start sending funding to the homeless, but it was not until 1984 that shelters were built to accommodate and feed them. As it was shown though seventy percent required the homeless to attend a religious ceremony and spend only a couple of nights there. In the 1987 McKinney Act the problem with homelessness became known as a huge social problem. Later on, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (P.L. 107-110) amended the program explicitly to prohibit states that receive McKinney-Vento funds from segregating homeless students from non-homeless students, except for short periods of time for health and safety emergencies or to provide temporary, special, supplementary services. The Chronic Homelessness Initiative. The George W. Bush Administration established a national goal of ending chronic homelessness in ten years, by 2012. The idea of a 10-year plan to end chronic homelessness began as a part of a 10-year plan to end homelessness in general adopted by the National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH) in 2000. The following year, then-Secretary Martinez announced HUD's commitment to ending chronic homelessness at the NAEH annual conference. In 2002, as a part of his FY2003 budget, President Bush made "ending chronic homelessness in the next decade a top objective." The bi-partisan, congressionally mandated, Millennial Housing Commission, in its Report to Congress in 2002, included ending chronic homelessness in 10 years among its principal recommendations. By 2003, the Interagency Council on Homelessness had been re-engaged and charged with pursuing the President's 10-year plan. The Administration has recently undertaken some collaborative efforts to reach its goal of ending chronic homelessness in 10 years. On October 1, 2003, the Administration announced the award of over $48 million in grants aimed at serving the needs of the chronically homeless through two initiatives. The "Ending Chronic Homelessness through Employment and Housing"[91] initiative was a collaborative grant offered jointly by HUD[92] and the Department of Labor (DOL).[93] The initiative offered $10 million from HUD and $3.5 million from DOL to help the chronically homeless in five communities gain access to employment and permanent housing. Section 8 is the core housing program that helps extremely low-income families accommodate the gap between their incomes below 30 percent of the median income for each community. The government assists homeless families by awarding grants and vouchers. Vouchers are available to the families who are most needy and they are used to pay for housing found in the private market. Currently there are policy changes in who receives vouchers and there will be a reduction in the amount of vouchers granted to the homeless population.

Public libraries[edit]

Public libraries can and often do significantly assist with the issues represented by homelessness. In many communities, the library is the only facility that offers free computer and internet access in their community, resources often necessary for job applications. They also provide resources to do research into healthcare, and to help better their education.[94]

The news article and video entitled, "SF library offers Social Services to Homeless,"[95] speaks about the step of the San Francisco library having a full-time social worker at the library to reduce and help homeless patrons. It mentions that Leah Esguerra, who is a psychiatric social worker, has a usual routine which is done by making her rounds to different homeless patrons and greeting them to see if she could help them. She offers help in different forms that could range from linking patrons with services or providing them with mental health counseling. She also supervises a 12-week vocational program that culminates in gainful employment in the library for the formerly homeless (Knight, 2010).[96] The changes have garnered positive results from all patrons. Since this service started, staff at the library stated that they have noticed a drop in inappropriate behavior.

The San Jose University Library became one of the first academic libraries to pay attention to the needs of the homeless and implement changes to better serve this population. In 2007, the merged University Library and Public Library made the choice to be proactive in reaching out. Collaborations with nonprofit organizations in the area culminated in computer classes being taught, as well as nutrition classes, family literacy programs, and book discussion groups (Collins, 2009).[97] After eighteen months, the library staff felt they still were not doing enough and "analyzed program participation trends supplemented by observation and anecdotes" in order to better understand the information needs of the homeless. When it was understood that these needs are complex, additional customer service training was provided to all staff who were interested (Collins, 2009, p. 112).[97] Once the staff more fully understood the needs of the homeless, it was determined that many programs in place already would be helpful to the homeless with a few minor adjustments. Programs were tailored to meet these needs. Additional changes implemented included temporary computer passes and generous in-house reading space to counteract the policies in place that may prevent the homeless from obtaining a library card (Collins, 2009).New York Public Library offers services to those homeless residing in shelters.

The Dallas Public Library started "Coffee and Conversation" which is part of their Homeless Engagement Initiative. The staff hopes these bimonthly events between staff and homeless patrons will help them better serve the homeless population in Dallas.[98] They also sponsor Street View podcast, a library produced podcast featuring the stories and experiences of the city's homeless population. Guests often include social service providers.[99]

In May 1991, Richard Kreimer, a homeless man in Morristown, N.J. sued the local public library and the Town of Morristown for kicking him out of the library after other patrons complained about his disruptive behavior and pungent body odor. He later won the case and settled for $250,000.[100][101]

Effects of homelessness[edit]

Childhood education[edit]

Homelessness has a tremendous effect on a child's education. Education of homeless youth is thought to be essential in breaking the cycle of poverty.[citation needed] The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act mandates equal opportunity to a free public education to homeless students. This act is supposed to break down the barriers homeless students have to receiving an education. These barriers include residency restriction, medical record verification, and transportation issues. Once a student surpasses these barriers, they are still subject to the stigma of being homeless, and the humiliation they feel because of their situation. Some families do not report their homelessness, while others are unaware of the opportunities available to them. Many report that maintaining a stable school environment helps the students because it's the only thing that remains normal.[102] Many homeless students fall behind their peers in school due to behavioral disorders, and lack of attendance in school.[103]

Since the housing market fall out there has been a rise in the number of homeless students. NAEHCY or the National Association for the Education of Homeless for Children and Youth, has reported a 99% increase in homeless students within a three-month period (San Diego).[104]

Of 1,636 schools, 330 reported no increase, 847 reported an increase of half, and 459 reported an increase of 25% or more. Due to the provisions of the McKinney-Vento Act many school districts are struggling to provide the necessary services, such as rising transportation needs and the greater severity of services.

One of the biggest challenges our district faces is providing transportation to students who are experiencing homelessness. There are few approaches that our district can utilize to provide transportation for these students. Our city has only one taxi cab service and no public bus system. Our cab company is small and simply cannot fulfill all of our transportation requests. When it's possible, we add students to existing bus routes or set up a contractual agreement with the student's parent/guardian. However, there have been many situations where none of these options have worked. Another challenge our district faces is providing proper outer-wear for students who are homeless. Being that we live in central Wisconsin and have long, cold winters, all students need proper outerwear to go outside. Proper outerwear includes snow boots, hat, mittens, snow pants, and a winter jacket that has a working zipper or buttons on it. This expense adds up quickly and is hard to provide to the increasing number of homeless students.[104]

This is especially worrisome since homeless students are 1) 1.5 times more likely to perform below grade level in reading; 2) 1.5 times more likely to perform below grade level in spelling; and 3) 2.5 times more likely to perform below grade level in math.[104] There are a few worries that there will be false reports of homeless students, but mostly it's not an issue.[102]


Various laws have both directly and indirectly criminalized the homeless[105] and people attempting to feed homeless people outdoors.[106] At least 31 cities have criminalized feeding the homeless.[107][108]

In 2014, the United Nations Human Rights Committee criticized the United States for the criminalization of homelessness, noting that such "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment" is in violation of international human rights treaty obligations.[109][110][111][112]


Measures passed "prohibit activities such as sleeping/camping, eating, sitting, and begging in public spaces, usually including criminal penalties for violation of these laws."[113] Violators of such laws typically incur criminal penalties, which result in fines and/or incarceration.

In April 2006 the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that "making it a crime to be homeless by charging them with a crime is in violation of the 8th and 14th Amendments."[114][115] However, on October 15, 2007, the Court vacated its Opinion when, on appeal the parties settled the case out of court.[116]

The City could not expressly criminalize the status of homelessness by making it a crime to be homeless without violating the Eighth Amendment, nor can it criminalize acts that are an integral aspect of that status. Because there is substantial and undisputed evidence that the number of homeless persons in Los Angeles far exceeds the number of available shelter beds at all times, including on the nights of their arrest or citation, Los Angeles has encroached upon Appellants' Eighth Amendment protections by criminalizing the unavoidable act of sitting, lying or sleeping at night while being involuntarily homeless.

… the Eighth Amendment prohibits the City from punishing involuntary sitting, lying, or sleeping on public sidewalks that is an unavoidable consequence of being human and homeless without shelter in the City of Los Angeles.

… By our decision, we in no way dictate to the City that it must provide sufficient shelter for the homeless, or allow anyone who wishes to sit, lie, or sleep on the streets of Los Angeles at any time and at any place within the City. All we hold is that, so long as there is a greater number of homeless individuals in Los Angeles than the number of available beds, the City may not enforce section 41.18(d) at all times and places throughout the City against homeless individuals for involuntarily sitting, lying, and sleeping in public.

In August 2012, a federal district judge in Philadelphia ruled that laws prohibiting serving food to the homeless outdoors were unconstitutional.[117]

On June 19, 2014 the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit struck down a 1983 ordinance in the city of Los Angeles which "bans people from living in cars or recreational vehicles on city streets or in parking lots" as being "unconstitutionally vague ... Unlike other cities, which ban overnight parking or sleeping in vehicles, Los Angeles' law prohibits using cars as 'living quarters; both overnight and 'day-by-day, or otherwise.'"[118]

Homeless rights advocates are pushing for "Right to Rest" bills in several states in 2015, which would overturn laws that target homeless people for sitting, eating, and sleeping in public places.[119]

Crimes against homeless people[edit]

The past two decades have seen a growing number of violent acts committed upon people experiencing homelessness—the rate of such documented crimes in 2005 was 30% higher than of those in 1999.[113] 75% of all perpetrators are under the age of 25.

In recent years, largely due to the efforts of the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) and academic researchers, the problem of violence against the homeless has gained national attention. In their report: Hate, Violence, and Death on Mainstreet USA, the NCH reported 386 violent acts committed against homeless persons over the period, among which 155 were lethal. The NCH called those acts hate crimes (they retain the definition of the American Congress). They insist that so called bumfight videos disseminate hate against the homeless and dehumanize them.

The Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism (CSHE) at California State University, San Bernardino in conjunction with the NCH found that 155 homeless people were killed by non-homeless people in "hate killings", while 76 people were killed in all the other traditional hate crime homicide categories such as race and religion, combined.[120] The CSHE contends that negative and degrading portrayals of the homeless contribute to a climate where violence takes place.

Various studies and surveys indicate that homeless people have a much higher criminal victimization rate than the non-homeless, but that most incidents never get reported to authorities. A 2007 study found that the number of violent crimes against the homeless is increasing.[120][121] In 2013 there were 109 attacks on homeless people, a 24 per cent increase on the previous year, according to the NCH. Eighteen people died as a result of the attacks. In July 2014 three boys 15, 16 and 18, were arrested and charged with beating to death two homeless men with bricks and a metal pole in Albuquerque.[122]


There has been concern about the transmission of diseases in the homeless population housed in shelters, and the people who work there, especially with tuberculosis.[123]

A 2011 study led by Dr. Rebecca T. Brown in Boston, Massachusetts conducted by the Institute for Aging Research (an affiliate of Harvard Medical School), Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program found the elderly homeless population had "higher rates of geriatric syndromes, including functional decline, falls, frailty and depression, than seniors in the general population and that many of these conditions may be easily treated if detected". The report was published in the Journal of Geriatric Internal Medicine.[124]

Situations in specific U.S. cities and states[edit]


Although throughout the United States panhandling is discouraged, passive panhandling falls under First Amendment rights to free speech.[125] In Alabama the prohibition of aggressive panhandling and regulation of passive panhandling is controlled by individual cities, with many panhandlers being charged with loitering offences.[126] Loitering for the purposes of begging and prostitution in Alabama is a criminal offense.[127] An issue for Alabamans is the proportion of panhandlers defined as vagrants, who contrary to their implications, are not homeless but accept the generosity of the community under this false pretence.[128] As the cities decide ordinances for the control of panhandling, there is a variety of methods used across the state depending on the issues in each city. Many cities such as Mobile, Alabama have introduced a set of ordinances to prohibit panhandling in the "Downtown Visitors Domain" area, as well regulations for panhandlers in the rest of the city including disallowing; panhandling at night, physical contact while panhandling, panhandling in groups, and approaching those in queues or traffic.[129] These ordinances are an improvement on the previously vague prohibition of "begging".[129] For those soliciting donations for charitable organizations, a permit must be obtained for the fundraising operation to be exempt from panhandling ordinances.[130] Panhandling in the Downtown Visitors Domain may result in fines and jail sentences for those involved.[131] Another effort to limit panhandling in Mobile is an initiative using donation meters through which people can donate money to approved charities in attempts to resolve the necessity of panhandling by providing disadvantaged citizens with resources. This method attempts to lessen the recurring arrest and release of the publicly intoxicated, who are often homeless or vagrant and participate in panhandling.[132]

An important concern for those in Alabama's capital city, Montgomery, is those who travel from other cities to panhandle, with a police report from November 2016 showing that most panhandlers in the area had travelled to the city for the purposes of begging.[133] In the city of Daphne, panhandling is prohibited within 25 feet of public roadways and violators are subject to fines,[134] while the cities of Gardendale and Vestavia Hills prevent all forms of panhandling on private and public property.[135][136] The city of Tuscaloosa prohibits all aggressive panhandling, as well as passive panhandling near banks and ATMs, towards people in parked or stopped vehicles and at public transport facilities.[137] Alabama's most populous city, Birmingham has considered limitations on panhandling that disallow solicitation near banks and ATMs, with fines for infractions such as aggressive or intimidating behaviour.[138] Another concern for Birmingham is litter left behind in popular panhandling sites, especially for business owners in the downtown area.[139][140] In Birmingham, specifically asking for money is considered illegal panhandling.[141] The City Action Partnership (CAP) of Birmingham encourages civilians to report and discourage panhandlers throughout the city, especially under unlawful circumstances including panhandling using children, aggression, false information and panhandling while loitering as prohibited by City Ordinances.[142]

Within the city of Opelika it is considered a misdemeanour to present false or misleading information while panhandling, and there are requirements for panhandlers to possess a panhandling permit.[143] Threatening behaviours towards those solicited to are also considered misdemeanours and include; being too close, blocking the path of those approached, or panhandling in groups of two or more persons. Those previously charged with these offences in Opelika are not eligible for a panhandling permit within set time limits.[143]


Panhandling is not an illegal practice in the United States; however, states and counties have different policies in dealing with the issue. Arizona has a 17.4% of the population living below the poverty line and has 56 units per 100 renters being considered affordable housing for being living under the poverty line, Arizona is considered one of the poorest states in the USA being ranked 8th poorest.[144] In this sense panhandling is a major issue in the region. Aggressive measures have been taken in order to address this issue. The state of Arizona has been very active in attempting to criminalize acts of panhandling. Measures have included arresting and jailing individuals caught in the act. Arizona's Revised Statutes title 13. Criminal Code 2905(a)(3) sought to ban begging from the state of Arizona, specifically in the area of being "present in a public place to beg, unless specifically authorized by law."[145] The city of Flagstaff took the policy a step further by implementing a practice of arresting, jailing and prosecuting individuals who are beg for money or food.[145] In February 2013, Marlene Baldwin, a woman in her late 70s was arrested and jailed for asking a plain clothed officer for $1.25. Between June 2012 and May 2013 135 individuals were arrested under the law.[146] However, after criticism and a lawsuit from The American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona the policy was deemed unconstitutional as it breached free speech rights granted by both federal and state constitutions. In his judgement, Judge Neil V. Wake declared the A.R.S 13-2905(a)(3) was void and prohibited any practices the city of Flagstaff has implemented that " interferes with, targets, cites, arrests, or prosecutes any person on the basis of their act(s) of peaceful begging in public areas."[145] Despite this, the state of Arizona continued to pursue other ways to criminalize panhandling. Their response to Judge Wake's judgment was to criminalize "aggressive panhandling. The bill that passed into law in 2015 prohibits individuals from asking for money within 15-feet of an ATM or bank without prior permission from the property owner.[147] Furthermore, it prohibits "following the person being solicited in a manner that is intended or likely to cause a reasonable person to fear imminent bodily harm," or "obstructing the safe or free passage of the person being solicited."[147]

Moreover, the city of Chandler has proposed a new bill that prevents panhandling along city streets justifying the law by citing safety concerns. The proposed laws would make it a civil traffic offence for an individual to be at a median strip for any purposes other than crossing the road.[148] Under the proposed law, the first violation would be treated as a civil traffic offence; however, a second violation within 24 months would be treated as a Class 1 misdemeanor citation in which an individual could be fined a maximum of $2500 and face up to six months in jail.[148] The State of Arizona continues to seek measures that would both limit panhandling but also satisfy the judgement made by Judge Neil V. Wake and the First Amendment.


In 2015, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development released a report detailing the decline of homelessness in Arkansas, but that the level of homeless veterans had increased. They found that 2,560 people were homeless in Arkansas in January 2015, and that 207 were veterans, an 83% increase in veteran homelessness since January 2009. Arkansas is one of only five states to have seen homelessness among veterans to increase by more than 100 people in that time. Of those five states, Arkansas had the largest number of homeless veterans. This is compared to nationwide, where homelessness among veterans has decreased by 35% since 2009.[149] As of 2015, it was estimated that 1,334 of the homeless in Arkansas are youths. In Arkansas, the most common causes of homelessness are income issues and personal relationships. The median time spent homeless is 12 months, however 30% have been homeless for over two years.[150] Jon Woodward from the 7Hills shelter in Fayetteville, AR said "primarily the two largest groups of who's homeless in our region are families with children and veterans. And those are two groups that our community really does care about and can get behind supporting." [151] Despite this, shelters in Little Rock have struggled with insufficient funding and police harassment, resulting in reducing hours or closure.[152]

Under loitering laws, lingering or remaining in a public place with the intention to beg is prohibited in Arkansas.[153] However, in November 2016 in Little Rock, a judge ruled that this law banning begging was unconstitutional, and violated the First Amendment. The American Civil Liberties Union filed the case on behalf of Michael Rodgers, a disabled veteran, and Glynn Dilbeck, a homeless man who was arrested for holding up a sign asking for money to cover his daughter's medical expenses. ACLU were successful in their challenge, meaning that law enforcement officers will be prohibited from arresting or issuing citations to people for begging or panhandling.[154]

The loitering law has had a history of being abused by police officers in the state of Arkansas. For example, two homeless men reported separate incidents of having been kicked out of Little Rock Bus Station by police officers. Despite showing valid tickets that showed that their bus would arrive within 30 minutes, they were told they could not wait on the premises because they were loitering. In another incident, police officers told homeless people to leave a free public event or be subject to arrest for loitering in a park. This was despite the fact that vendors at the event had encouraged the homeless to attend and take free samples of their merchandise. In 2005, police assembled an undercover taskforce to crackdown on panhandling in the downtown Little Rock area, arresting 41 people.[152] 72% of the homeless report ever being arrested.[150]

Chicago, Illinois[edit]

Over the years, the city of Chicago, Illinois has gained a reputation as the city with the most homeless people, rivaling Los Angeles and New York City, although no statistical data have backed this up. The reputation stems primarily from the subjective number of beggars found on the streets rather than any sort of objective statistical census data. Indeed, from statistical data, Chicago has far less homeless per capita than peers New York, and Los Angeles, or other major cities such as Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Boston, among others, with only 5,922 homeless recorded in a one night count taken in 2007.[155]

Denver, Colorado[edit]

While Mayor of Denver, Colorado, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper made dealing with the issues that underlie homelessness a top priority on his Mayoral agenda, speaking heavily on the issue during his first "State of the City" address in 2003. While Denver's homeless population is much lower than other major cities, the homeless residents have often suffered when without shelter during Denver's infamously cold winters. Now officials have said that this number has risen over the past few years.[156]

In April 2012,[157] Denver enacted the Urban Camping Ban due to the occupy Denver protest and the number of homeless on the 16th Street Mall. The ordinance was developed because businesses and individuals in Denver complained to the Mayor's office and City Council that the number of people who were sleeping in front of their business doorways and this was disruptive and made it uncomfortable for individuals to enter their businesses. In addition, Occupy Denver had taken over public space near the capital building in Denver and it became a homeless compound consisting of tents and other structures. The pressure to clean up Denver by businesses and other individuals on the Councilman Albus Brooks sponsored the legislation. Mayor Michael Hancock and City Council passed the urban camping ban which prohibited individuals from sleeping in public places with a blanket over them or something between them and the ground. Those who enact these laws often state it is the tool needed to encourage those who are not accessing services to find ways to address the issues that caused them to be homeless. The Civil Liberties Union wrote a strong letter in opposition to the Denver ordinance.


Homeless advocate and urban designer Michael E. Arth proposed building a Pedestrian village for the adult homeless in Volusia County near Daytona Beach, Florida in 2007.[158][159][160] As of 2009, Arth was still working toward trying to consolidate most of the scattered 19 local agencies into an attractive community that would be designed to more effectively address the needs of the chronically adult homeless and the temporarily adult homeless, as well as others who may be having difficulty fitting into the pervasive, automobile-dominated culture. He writes that the current "piecemeal approach" inefficiently spreads out services and work opportunities, and aggravates the problem by polarizing citizens who might otherwise be inclined to help. In response to critics who say that such a village would be like a concentration camp, Arth points out that the U.S. already concentrates their citizens into prisons at 7–8 times the rate of Canada or Europe. "There should be alternative between living on the street and being locked up that addresses the needs of the chronically and temporarily adult homeless." His proposed "Tiger Bay Village" would have a community garden and orchard, a place to hire certified workers, and a work crew to help build and maintain the village. "Little shops in the village center could process and rehabilitate donated clothes and furnishings to be sold to the public." Housing would range from multi-bed barracks to small Katrina cottages depending on a person's contributions to the village, special needs, and income. Arth claims that this would cost less and be far more effective than any of the other solutions tried elsewhere.[161]

In 2013, a Central Florida Commission on Homelessness study indicated that the region spends $31,000 a year per homeless person to cover "salaries of law-enforcement officers to arrest and transport homeless individuals — largely for nonviolent offenses such as trespassing, public intoxication or sleeping in parks — as well as the cost of jail stays, emergency-room visits and hospitalization for medical and psychiatric issues." This did not include "money spent by nonprofit agencies to feed, clothe and sometimes shelter these individuals". In contrast, the report estimated the cost of permanent supportive housing at "$10,051 per person per year" and concluded that "[h]ousing even half of the region's chronically homeless population would save taxpayers $149 million during the next decade — even allowing for 10 percent to end up back on the streets again." This particular study followed 107 long-term-homeless residents living in Orange, Osceola or Seminole Counties.[162] There are similar studies showing large financial savings in Charlotte and Southeastern Colorado from focusing on simply housing the homeless.[163]

Panhandling and Begging

Based on the US Census Bureau TalkPoverty.org reports there are 3,116,886 people in poverty in Florida or 15.7% of the total states 19, 850, 054 people as per the most recent US census. The majority in poverty are African American and Asian American, and 22.8% of them being children.[164] Begging and panhandling are often a consequence of pervasive poverty due to the need to source money. When focusing on the laws of begging and panhandling it is important to begin with the fact that people become beggars and panhandlers for a variety of reasons. They could be in that situation because of socio-economic issues, disability, loss of income due to natural disasters, discrimination due to being a minority group, lack education, health issues and many more. Consequently, the approach to these social issues must be responsive to people needs to help them escape poverty and the need to beg.

The state of Florida deals with panhandling and begging in a variety of ways, like the rest of the United States, these issues are dealt with by overlapping laws from both the state and the municipality or province.[165] State laws in Florida according to Legal Beagle relate primarily to the ban on impeding traffic and roads whereas city ordinances increasingly focus on banning specific areas of the city and certain behaviours.[165]

The National Veterans Homeless Support initiative succinctly phrased current approaches to dealing with panhandling as "kick[ing] the can down the road" when referring to Melbourne City in Florida's new punitive sweeping ban on panhandling adding locations such as ATM's and bus stops to its new list of locations individuals can be incriminated for.[166] In 2016 the City of Sarasota's panhandling laws are now broadened to be stricter and include all forms of solicitation. Sarasota is a popular location for the homeless to come to due to its warm temperate weather.[167] The local police department also updated its approach to be more punitive by requiring police to remove unattended items in the streets such as personal items. Those who do not have a home in many Florida cities are facing the dilemma of being outlawed for begging to make money and then criminalized again for being homeless and having nowhere to place belongings; compounding systemic social issues within the communities.[168][169] In Lake Worth, Florida, ordinance No. 2014-3 effectively bans panhandling across the entire city. It allows authorities to penalize individuals with a 60-day period in jail or $500 fine which they are unlikely to be able to afford. This has broader systemic issues on the mass incarceration dilemma within the American prison industrial complex because this results increased numbers of those involved in these activities being arrested and ending up within the prison system.[170] Indeed, an issue with begging and panhandling laws across Florida and more broadly is the "selective enforcement of public spaces" and this is becoming more prevalent with tougher rules across cities in Florida which give police new powers.[169]

St Petersberg, Florida, in 2007 passed half a dozen new ordinances aimed at homelessness and begging such as banning storage of belongings in public spaces and making it illegal to sleep in many public areas. Moreover, Orlando Florida in 2006 passed ordinances that banned groups from feeding more than 25 people in public parks.[171] In 2011, Huffington Post reported how the activist group Food Not Bombs had twelve members arrested for feeding panhandlers and beggars in Orlando, illustrating a new shift in ordinance punitive-ness aiming at not just those begging or panhandling but those willing to give.[172] In Fort Lauderdale, Florida, it is forbidden to give food to homeless in parks also, illustrating the extent of anti-panhandling laws and their expansion in society.[173] A report called 'Criminalising Crises', published by The National Law Centre on Homelessness and Poverty (NLCHP) highlights how the legal system criminalizes homelessness and does nothing to solve social problems. For example, in Alachua County, Florida, police can issue 'Notice to Appear' options for many offences including panhandling yet this requires a permanent address – many who panhandle do not have an address and consequently the police must arrest the individual which renders them into a system that does not actually deal with their homelessness.[169] The NLCHP also published a report No Safe Place which highlights one of Florida's cities with the strongest criminalization policies is Clearwater, Florida. Clearwater has nearly half of its homeless population (42%), without access to emergency housing or affordable housing and like other cities such as Orlando, punishes heavily sleeping or sitting in public and panhandling/begging.[174]

Creative Housing Solutions in Florida found that to reduce the cycle of homeless and beggars going through criminal justice system and health care system, it would be more sustainable if permanent housing was given to chronically homeless, saving Central Florida $21,000 per person in law enforcement costs.[175]

Constitutionally, panhandling laws are reported by many to be breaches of Federal Law and civil liberties. Tampa City in Florida has had its 2013 ordinance which completely banned panhandling in the downtown areas ruled as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2016.[176] The City of Sarasota, also revised its panhandling and solicitation laws in response to this Supreme Courts findings.[177]

A less punitive approach and increased focus on social services will arguably produce better results in the long term for Florida's begging population.

Honolulu, Hawaii[edit]

In Honolulu, where the homeless interfere with the tourist trade, aggressive measures have been taken to remove the homeless from popular tourist spots such as Waikiki and Chinatown. Measures include criminalizing sitting or lying on sidewalks and transportation of homeless to the mainland.[178]

Section 14-75 of the Hawaii County Code gives that soliciting for money in an aggressive manner is illegal. Section 14-74 defines 'aggressive' as to include causing fear, following, touching, blocking or using threatening gestures in the process of panhandling.[179] This carries a $25 fine and may include a term of imprisonment.[180]

While many laws targeting homeless populations are not new, there has been a shift in their focus. Prohibitions, including loitering and sleeping outdoors, have expanded to include strict panhandling restraints. These do not necessarily include complete bans, but can cover when, where and how panhandling can be legally conducted. Maria Foscarinis, executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, gives that this is a result of gentrification coupled with Hawaii's dependence on tourism.[181] In 2013 alone, tourism in Hawaii generated $14.5 billion, which averaged $39 million per visitor spending day.[182] This major sector is therefore a vital consideration in panhandling legislation.

Hawaiian locals and business operators such as Dave Moskowitz agree with these restraints, arguing that panhandling is bad for tourism.[180]

Police, on the other hand, give that panhandling is not a prominent issue, nor is it prioritized.[183] Legally, ethically and practically, it is difficult for police to enforce strict panhandling laws at all times, thus police discretion plays a vital role in determining who is cited and how many citations are given.

For the panhandling population who are cited, there is a general feeling of indifference, perhaps even disregard. Ralph McCarroll, for example, says that he has 30 citations and that law enforcement knows that he is never going to pay them.[178] A number of studies indicate that the average panhandler is an unmarried, unemployed male in his 30s to 40s, often with drug/alcohol problems, a lack of social support and laborer's skills.[183] These factors are likely to affect the poor perception of these laws in the panhandling population.

Social justice advocates and non-governmental organizations will argue that this approach is therefore counter-intuitive. They argue that panhandling laws violate free speech, criminalize homelessness and remove an essential part of destitute people's lives. Doran Porter, executive director of the Affordable Housing and Homeless Alliance, argues that these laws merely deal with the symptoms of homelessness rather than fixing the problem.[180]

The role of the court is essential in clarifying whether the laws are constitutionally valid. In 2015, the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii foundation (ACLUH) paired with Davis Levin Livingston Law Firm to represent Justin Guy in suit against the Hawaii County. Guy's lawyers argued that prohibiting their client from holding up a sign that read 'Homeless Please Help' offended his First Amendment right to freedom of speech.[184] Matthew Winter, a lawyer on the case, made reference to political candidates (who are lawfully able to hold signs), to contrast against the inability of the poor to hold up signs asking for help.[184] The court ruled in Guy's favour, which led to an award of $80,000 compensation and repeal of subsections 14-74, 14-75, 15-9, 15-20, 15-21, 15-35 and 15-37 of the Hawaii County Code. In a statement, Guy emphasized the need for the State of Hawaii to treat the homeless with the same dignity as the general population.[184] This court ruling is a positive step in that direction.

The future of panhandling laws in Hawaii is reliant on legislators and their perception of panhandling's impact on tourism. By utilizing aggressive political language, such as 'the war on homelessness' and 'emergency state,' Hawaiian politics will continue to criminalize the behaviours of destitute populations. On the other hand, with pressure from state/federal departments and non-governmental organizations, restrictions on panhandling laws may be possible. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, for example, has stated that it would not provide homeless assistance funds to states that criminalize homelessness.[178] Given that Hawaii has one of the USA's largest growing homeless populations (between 2007 and 2016, Hawaii saw a 30.5% increase in homelessness), it is in a poor position to reject federal funding and assistance from non-governmental organizations.[185] Due to these factors, recent court disapproval, repeals and police discretion, it is likely that over time strict panhandling laws in Hawaii will lessen in severity.

Indianapolis, Indiana[edit]

In[186] Indianapolis, Indiana, as many as 2,200 people are homeless on any given night, and as many as 15,000 individuals over the course of a year. Indianapolis is notable among cities of similar size for having only faith-based shelters, such as the century-old[187] Wheeler Mission. In 2001, Mayor Bart Peterson endorsed a 10-year plan, called the[188] Blueprint to End Homelessness, and made it one of his administration's top priorities. The plan's main goals are for more affordable housing units, employment opportunities, and support services. The Blueprint notwithstanding, Indianapolis has criminalized aspects of homelessness, such as making panhandling a misdemeanor; and the[189] City-County Council has twice (in April 2002, and August 2005) denied the zoning necessary to open a new shelter for homeless women.


Homelessness in Iowa is a significant issue. In 2015, 12,918 Iowans were homeless and 'served by emergency shelters, transitional housing, rapid rehousing or street outreach projects'.[190] Another 8,174 Iowans were at risk of being homeless and lived in supportive housing or were involved in street outreach projects.[190] The actual number of homeless Iowans is likely to be substantially greater, as these figures only account for those who sought help. Homelessness is particularly problematic in Iowa City, as there is only one shelter in the city to cater for its large homeless population.[191] Further, those who have been abusing substances are prohibited from using this shelter, thus excluding a large proportion of homeless people.[192]

Panhandling has become an increasingly significant problem in Iowa. There is much controversy surrounding how best to deal with this widespread issue. Debate has focused on the best way to balance compassion, free speech and public safety.[193] Iowan cities have struggled with finding the balance between avoiding criminalising poverty, while at the same time not encouraging begging, particularly that which is aggressive. There has also been widespread concern about the legitimacy of panhandlers and the significant amount of money that some are making. Cedar Rapids panhandler, Dawn, admitted that she has come across many illegitimate panhandlers. These include people who already have access to housing and financial assistance, and even some who pretend to be disabled or to be a veteran.[194]

A famous incident in Muscatine, Iowa, photos of which went viral, provides a prime example of the tensions that exist around the legitimacy of panhandlers. In December 2015, two young boys were panhandling, holding signs which read 'broke and hungry please'.[195] Pothoff, who worked nearby, offered the boys a job. The boys stated that they were 'not from around here', smirked and walked away. Pothoff then decided to join the boys on the side of the road, holding up his own sign, which read 'Offered these guys a job, they said no, don't give them money'.

Following the Supreme Court case, United States v Kokinda, 497 U.S. 720, 725 (1990), the right to beg for money is protected speech under the First Amendment.[196] Therefore, panhandling cannot be entirely prohibited. However, as per Ward v Rock Against Racism, 491 U.S. 781, 791 (1989), US cities may enact 'reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions' which are narrowly drafted to 'serve a significant governmental interest' and also allow for this speech to occur in an alternative setting.[196]

This has led to a trend amongst many Iowan cities of enacting ordinances which control and restrict panhandling. In Bettendorf, aggressive panhandling, panhandling on a travelled portion of a roadway and soliciting on a bus, bus stop, within 15 feet of an automated teller machine or on Interstate 74 exit ramps between certain hours of the day are all prohibited.[197] Additionally, a panhandling licence is required and this can be revoked for 6 months if any of these regulations are breached, in addition to a fine or incarceration.[198] Bettendorf grants panhandling licences for free, however licences must be renewed every 6 months and candidates must undergo a police check.[199]

Similarly, in Davenport, aggressive panhandling, soliciting within 20 feet of an automated teller machine or bank entrance, or on a roadway or median of a roadway are prohibited.[198] Police Chief Paul Sirorski admitted that the ordinance can be difficult to enforce and that the number of complaints concerning panhandlers in Davenport is increasing.[200] In light of community concerns, Davenport is set to review the ordinance.[201]

Iowa City has similar ordinances and has also installed special purple parking meters which are used to fund homeless organizations.[202] The aim is to encourage people to give money to homeless programs through parking fees, rather than directly to beggars. However, some argue that it is better to donate money to panhandlers than to organizations as you can be sure that the money is going directly to the person without any loss through administrative costs.[203]

As Cedar Rapids currently has no ordinance controlling panhandling, there has been an increase in the number of panhandlers.[204] Cedar Rapids has also seen an increase in the number of complaints concerning panhandlers.[204] This has led to consideration of the introduction of an ordinance that would prohibit panhandling in certain areas. The ordinance also includes plans for police to be able to give resource cards to panhandlers. These cards provide a list of resources which provide housing, food and financial assistance.

Councils claim that these ordinances are necessary to ensure public safety and prevent traffic accidents. Other rationales behind these laws include 'to improve the image of the city to tourists, businesses and other potential investors' and to reflect the growing "compassion fatigue" of the city's middle and upper class after increasingly being exposed to widespread homelessness.[205] However, Saelinger (2006) argues that these laws '"criminalize" the very condition of being homeless'.[205] Saelinger (2006) also claims that through the implementation of these laws, governments have focused on making homelessness invisible, rather than working to eradicate it.[205] The aesthetics of cities has also influenced the enactment of these ordinances, with businesses complaining that panhandlers bother their customers and make them feel uncomfortable, in addition to ruining the image of the city.[202]


In comparison with the US, Kansas continued to have an increasing level of homelessness until 2015. Between 2007 and 2015, homelessness across the US fell by 13 percent, while in Kansas it rose by more than 23 percent. Single individuals predominantly fell victim to homelessness rather than families, generating this increase in homelessness.[206] This is in discord with Sedgwick County's reputation as one of the most successful counties in the US for providing shelter to homeless family members and individuals. Chronic homelessness was seen to be more prevalent and increasing as was the proportion of veterans subjected to sleeping on the streets.[206] However, Kansas currently holds approximately 0.5% of the total homelessness in the US, listing itself in the bottom third of all of the US states.[207]

Begging and associated crimes[edit]

There is much concern within Kansas regarding the legitimacy of begging and panhandling. For example, within Wichita alone, there are many reports of persons posing as homeless to make a quick income and fuel their addiction habits such as alcohol, drugs, and sex.[208] This has been seen to increase recently with the development of boutiques and shops that are drawing growing numbers of customers and tourists to the area. Residents have further complained that many whom are homeless are frequently choosing to bypass available services in order to maintain their lifestyle. This increase in 'untruthful' begging has resulted in further chronic homelessness, as those who are most genuinely in need are being sidelined by 'quick-fix intruders'.[208]

The consequences of begging and panhandling across Kansas is not uniform, it differs from county to county, with some counties choosing to acknowledge it as a crime and others rejecting its presence. Under Kansas' Wyandotte County code of ordinances, panhandling is deemed an unlawful act when it occurs in an aggressive manner.[209] The consequences of panhandling present as an unclassified misdemeanour, which under Wyandotte County law signifies that unless the penalty is otherwise stated, it will receive the same penalty as a Class C misdemeanour i.e., punishable by up to one month in jail and a fine of up to $500.[210] This is less severe in comparison to Wichita County whereby the act of begging is deemed as a crime of loitering and is penalized with a fine of up to $1,000, one year imprisonment, or both.[211] Counties such as Topeka County and Sedgwick however differ, with Sedgwick County making no mention of such acts constituting crimes within its ordinance, Topeka follows suit. Such a scenario in Topeka occurred due to a 9-0 vote to defer action of panhandling, where a penalty of 179 days in jail and/or a fine up to $499 might have been applied if caught violating this ordinance.[212] This ordinance was only suspended indefinitely, however if it is reviewed and passed, it may result in the banning of solicitation on private property unless prior permission has been granted from the property owner (begging would not be affected and would remain legal).[213] Topeka currently does hold laws against soliciting on public property, which have not been found to target the homeless, rather targeting many backpackers instead. According to Topeka law, it is illegal to solicit funds, rides, or contributions along roadways, meaning that persons whom present cardboard signs asking for lifts throughout the city can be liable to penalties.[214] Such a law has stemmed from the high prevalence of scams in the area (men saying they have mechanical issues with their cars and women citing domestic abuse and the need for funds to stay at a hotel) which has forced a public awareness and therefore campaigns in the area.[214]

Kansas has a variety of services available to those who encounter panhandlers with organizations such as Downtown Wichita[215] in association with the Wichita police, creating information on methods to stop panhandling. This has been developed in the mode of a myriad of pamphlets regarding available services for the homeless which can be printed off and distributed by businesses when they encounter persons panhandling or begging.[208] Such services often report back to the Homeless Outreach Team in an attempt to reduce the prevalence of homelessness in the long-term.[216]

Persons encountering panhandlers and beggars in Kansas, if unable to politely refuse, are encouraged to contact 911.[208][216]


Many city and counties within the United States have enacted ordinances to limit or ban panhandling.[217] However, the legality of such laws has recently come under scrutiny, being challenged as a violation of individuals first amendment rights.[218] The first amendment states that "Congress shall make no law…. prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech."[219] It is therefore argued that stopping someone from asking for help from their fellow citizens is impeding on their right to free speech.

Panhandling laws differ throughout the state of Kentucky. In the city of Louisville, for example, it is an offence to panhandle in certain locations including: within 20 meters of a bus stop or ATM, in a crosswalk/ street, or anywhere that may be impeding others.[220] The ordinance places a strong emphasis on aggressive panhandling which had become a prominent issue within Louisville.[220] These municipal laws are one of the many that have recently come under scrutiny, being challenged as unconstitutional under first amendment rights.[218][221] In October 2016, a judge of the Jefferson Court District ruled against the laws, deeming them to be unconstitutional.[222] This decision is currently being reviewed by the Kentucky Supreme Court.[222]

In contrast, the city of Ashland, Kentucky has not come under scrutiny as their ordinance is less comprehensive and therefore less likely to impede individuals rights.[223] However, recently the ordinance was amended to further crack down on the act of panhandling, adding an amendment to stop panhandlers from walking out into traffic, in an attempt to keep both beggars and the public safe.[223]

Panhandling laws are often controversial as they are generally welcomed by the public, who can feel harassed.[224] However, it is also argued that they are disadvantaging the homeless and those in need.[224] As an attorney of the UCLA states, panhandling laws are "misdirected" and their purpose is to try and hide the problem of homelessness.[225]

There are 4,538 reported homeless in the state of Kentucky (0.10% of the population), which is consistent with rates of homelessness in many of Kentucky's neighbouring states including Tennessee and Ohio. [226] This number of homeless in Kentucky has declined since 2014.[226] The Kentucky Interagency Council on Homelessness is working towards an end to homelessness, their mission; to end homelessness across the state of Kentucky, with clear outlined goals and strategies on how this is going to be achieved.[227] One of their main goals is to assist local municipalities to end homelessness within the state.[227] The director for Homeless Prevention and Intervention in Kentucky, Charlie Lanter, says that in regards to panhandling, "if they're successful, then they have no incentive to go to a shelter or to go somewhere for food, or whatever their particular needs are..."[228] which limits the organizations ability to assist the individual off the streets. In particular, the city of Owensber has had support from its homeless shelters in protecting panhandler's rights on the streets, for example, Harry Pedigo, the director of St. Benedicts Homeless Shelter in Kentucky wants local panhandlers to know that the homeless organizations are there to help and not judge their situation.[229]

Los Angeles, California[edit]

In its January 2013 census, Los Angeles County counted 39,463 people sleeping on the street or in homeless shelters.[230] When including persons sleeping on private property with permission to stay no more than 90 days, the estimated number of homeless in Los Angeles County is 57,737.[230] The number of people in the latter category, called "precariously housed" or "at risk of homelessness", was estimated by means of a telephone survey. The number of homeless in Los Angeles County, including the precariously housed and at risk of homelessness, was 51,340 in 2011, of which 23,539 were in the City of Los Angeles, and 4,316 were in the 50 block area east of downtown Los Angeles known as Skid Row.[231] It is estimated that 190,207 people are homeless in Los Angeles County at least one night during the year.[232]

The 2013 census notes that 31.4% of the homeless in Los Angeles County are substance abusers, 30.2% are mentally ill, and 18.2% have a physical disability. The census also notes that 68.2% of the homeless are male, 38% are African American, 37% are Caucasian, 28% are Hispanic, and 57.6% are between 25 and 54 years old.[233] By 2015, there were an estimated 44 thousand homeless living in Los Angeles.[234]

On a given night, about 12,934 homeless people stay in a shelter.[230] The number includes families staying in motels on emergency vouchers.

In 2015, the LA Times reported that the city of Los Angeles spends roughly 100 million a year on homelessness, with a majority of that money going to the LAPD.[235]


Begging, panhandling and homelessness have been prevalent issues for the state of Louisiana for some time, and correlate closely with its poverty rates. Particularly since the disastrous Hurricane Katrina, which hit many Southern American states in 2005, poverty has maintained at a high level[236] The hurricane led to 1577 deaths in Louisiana alone, with $13 billion invested in flood insurance aid [236] Hurricane Katrina did not just have devastating physical and environmental impacts on Louisiana, but also socio- economical ones. Much of Louisiana, and New Orleans in particular, is made up of African-African, elderly and veteran populations, many of whom were plunged into further poverty once their houses were damaged by floods [237] As a result, begging and panhandling in Louisiana is not just a matter of economics, but also of gender, race and age.[237] Louisiana remains the third most impoverished state in the United States, with nearly 1 in 5 people living in poverty.[238]

Begging and panhandling is now illegal in the state of Louisiana. Bill HB115 was passed first through the Louisiana Legislative House in 2014, and then approved by the Senate later in 2015.[239] Through the criminalization of begging, offenders can now be given fines of approximately $200, or alternatively sentenced to up to 6 months in jail.[239] Although the bill specifically targets homeless populations in Louisiana, it also applies to prostitution, hitchhikers and the general solicitation of money.[240]

Supporters of the Bill hope that the criminalization of begging will lead to fewer homeless and poor people on the streets [239] Louisiana State Representative Austin Badone, the creator of the begging and panhandling bill, suggests that many of these people are not actually in need, and described the process of begging as a "racket." [239] Those opposed to the criminalization of begging and panhandling maintain that the law is unconstitutional, as they view begging under the category of Freedom of Speech.[241]

As a result, HB 115 has sparked social and political debate since its administration, as many argue that begging is protected under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.[242] Initially, this was said to only apply to non-aggressive forms of panhandling or begging, which do not include any use of force or threats.[242] However, the criminalization of all begging in Louisiana has called into question whether or not the bill breaches the First Amendment right.

Because of these claims, Louisiana has taken steps to showcase that the First Amendment is being protected. The city of Slidell, Louisiana, the largest in Louisiana, voted in July 2016 to implement permits for beggars and homeless people.[243] This would legally allow begging and panhandling in certain outlined areas. If their application is approved, this permit would be valid for one year, and would be required to be displayed during panhandling and begging [243] The permit can also be denied if the applicant has previously been charged with misdemeanours such as harassment or other begging-related offences.[244] Enforcement is set to begin by local Slidell authorities in November 2016.[244]


It is estimated that each year over 50,000 people experience homelessness in Maryland.[245] Although Maryland is one of the nation's wealthiest states, over 50% of impoverished Marylanders live in "deep poverty", meaning that their annual income is less than half of the federally defined poverty level.[245] Homelessness in Maryland increased by 7 percent between 2014 and 2015 according to statistics released by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development.[246]

Begging and associated crimes in Maryland[edit]

Panhandling in Maryland is widely protected under the First Amendment,[247] provided that the act does not include conduct which 'harasses, menaces, intimidates, impedes traffic or otherwise causes harm'.[248][249] The president of the nonpartisan First Amendment Center has stated that any legislation prohibiting the act of begging violates the constitution by "limiting a citizen's right to ask for help".[250] In 1994, Baltimore City enacted a zero-tolerance arrest policy to counter rising violent crime rates, prompting a push to reclaim public spaces by targeting beggars and homeless persons.[251] This resulted in the case of Patton v. Baltimore City (1994), where zero-tolerance arrest policies to reclaim public spaces were ruled to be unconstitutional, due to violation of the homeless' First Amendment right to freedom of association.[251]

Traffic hazards due to roadside solicitation have been identified as a cause of concern throughout Maryland, generating various attempts by legal officials to regulate panhandling in high traffic areas.[249] As a result, solicitation or panhandling is banned on or beside state roads under state law.[249] A statewide ban on panhandling and vending at all highway intersections was proposed in 2001, but was later revised to apply only to Charles County.[252]

In 2006, the Anne Arundel County Council enacted a ban on panhandling by children under 18 years old.[253] In April 2007, the Maryland General Assembly passed a bill banning panhandling beside and on Anne Arundel County roadways, as well as prohibiting the display of political signs or advertising messages on any public roadways.[253] The American Civil Liberties Union have consistently opposed solicitation bans, due to concerns that legislation may hinder the fundraising efforts of legitimate organizations.[253] A bill has since passed the House of Delegates in 2016, allowing the act of panhandling by firefighters and non-profit groups, pending their successful completion of traffic safety courses.[254]

In late 2011, legislation was proposed in Montgomery County which would require panhandlers to seek permits in order to engage in roadside solicitation, but this proposition was heavily scrutinized due to concerns that panhandling permits could constitute a breach of the First Amendment.[249] In September 2013, Montgomery County leaders announced a plan to instead purge panhandling from busy streets by encouraging citizens to donate money to not-for-profit shelters and food banks, rather than directly donating to panhandling persons.[255]

In 2012, Allegany County imposed narrow restrictions on panhandling, allowing only one day permit per person per year for roadside solicitations.[256] Other areas of Maryland with similar permit provisions include Cecil, Frederick and Baltimore counties.[256] In 2012, certain panhandling ordinances within Frederick County revived First Amendment debates after undercover police officers donated money to begging persons and subsequently arrested them on panhandling charges.[257] Frederick County police allegedly responded by indicating that their initiative in panhandling arrests was in response to reported 'quality of life' issues.[257]

In early 2013, legislation to ban the act of panhandling in commercial districts within Baltimore was put forward, but was met with backlash by a mass of protesters chanting "homes not handcuffs".[258] A revised bill was proposed in November, stipulating that panhandling would be prohibited only within 10 feet of outdoor dining areas.[258] In response, the president of Health Care for the Homeless in Baltimore County stated that the city already had stringent anti-begging laws and that the proposed legislation would merely make it easier to arrest impoverished citizens, which would in turn create further obstacles to their future self-sufficiency.[258]

In addition to aggressive panhandling, Takoma Park Municipal Code within Montgomery County currently prohibits panhandling in "darkness" (defined as the hours between sunset and sunrise)[259] as well as the solicitation of persons in motor vehicles and in specific locations including bus stops, outdoor cafes and taxi stands.[259]

Penalties for prohibited or aggressive panhandling within Maryland typically constitute misdemeanours, with punishment determined by crime, not class.[259] Sentences for imprisonment can range between 90 days or less to a maximum of ten years, with fines ranging from $500 to $5000.[260]


In 1969, the Pine Street Inn was founded by Paul Sullivan on Pine Street in Boston's Chinatown district and began caring for homeless destitute alcoholics.[261][262] In 1974, Kip Tiernan founded Rosie's Place in Boston, the first drop-in and emergency shelter for women in the United States, in response to the increasing numbers of needy women throughout the country.

In 1980, the Pine Street Inn had to move to larger facilities on Harrison Avenue in Boston[261][262] and in 1984, Saint Francis House had to move its operation from the St. Anthony Shrine on Arch Street to an entire ten-floor building on Boylston Street.[263]

In 1985, the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program was founded to assist the growing numbers of homeless living on the streets and in shelters in Boston and who were suffering from lack of effective medical services.[264][265]

In August 2007, in Boston, Massachusetts, the city took action to keep loiterers, including the homeless, off the Boston Common overnight, after a series of violent crimes and drug arrests.[266]

In December 2007, Mayor Thomas M. Menino of Boston, announced that the one night homeless count had revealed that the actual number of homeless living in the streets was down.[267]

In October 2008, Connie Paige of The Boston Globe reported that the number of homeless in Massachusetts had reached an all-time high, mostly due to mortgage foreclosures and the national economic crisis.[268]

In October 2009, as part of the city's Leading the Way initiative, Mayor Thomas Menino of Boston dedicated and opened the Weintraub Day Center which is the first city-operated day center for chronically homeless persons. It is a multi-service center, providing shelter, counseling, health care, housing assistance, and other support services. It is a 3,400-square-foot (320 m2) facility located in the Woods Mullen Shelter. It is also meant to reduce the strain on the city's hospital emergency rooms by providing services and identifying health problems before they escalate into emergencies. It was funded by $3 million in grants from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), the Massachusetts Medical Society and Alliance Charitable Foundation,[269] and the United States Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).[270]

In 2010, there was a continued crackdown on panhandling, especially the aggressive type, in downtown Boston. Summonses were being handed out, with scheduled court appearances. The results were mixed and in one upscale neighborhood, Beacon Hill, the resolve of the Beacon Hill Civic Association, which has received only one complaint about panhandlers, was to try to solve the bigger problem not by criminal actions.[271]

Due to economic constraints in 2010, Governor Deval Patrick had to cut the Commonwealth of Massachusetts 2011 budget so dental care for the majority of adults, including most homeless people, covered by MassHealth (Medicaid) would no longer be provided except for cleaning and extractions, with no fillings, dentures, or restorative care.[272][273] This does not affect dental care for children. The measure took effect in July 2010 and affects an estimated 700,000 adults, including 130,000 seniors.[274]

In September 2010, it was reported that the Housing First Initiative had significantly reduced the chronic homeless single person population in Boston, Massachusetts, although homeless families were still increasing in number. Some shelters were reducing the number of beds due to lowered numbers of homeless, and some emergency shelter facilities were closing, especially the emergency Boston Night Center.[275]

There is sometimes corruption and theft by the employees of a shelter as evidenced by a 2011 investigative report by FOX 25 TV in Boston wherein a number of Boston public shelter employees were found stealing large amounts of food over a period of time from the shelter's kitchen for their private use and catering.[276][277]


Michigan has a high number of homeless individuals on its streets, reaching 97,642 in 2014.[278] In the VI-SPADT (Vulnerability Index and Service Prioritization Decision Assistance tool) initiated by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) alongside the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) it was found that 2,462 individuals had 4,564 interactions with the police between June 2014 and April 2015.[278] The VI-SPADT also found that minority populations are overrepresented with 52% of the homeless population being a part of a minority group as well as people with disabilities of long duration such as chronic health conditions, mental health/cognitive conditions and substance abuse (65%).[278]

The criminalization of panhandling in Michigan has been the subject to much debate in public opinion and in the courts:

In 2011 and 2013, Grand Rapids was the centre for this debate. In 2011, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan (ACLU) filed a federal lawsuit challenging a law that makes begging a crime as a violation of free speech.[279] Prior to this, the ACLU discovered that police officers had been arresting, prosecuting and jailing individual people for requesting financial assistance on the streets. Between 2008 and 2011, there were approximately 400 arrests made by Grand Rapids under an old law that criminalizes the act of begging - 211 of these cases resulted in jail time.[279] The ACLU focused on the cases of two men. James Speet was arrested for holding a sign reading "Need a Job. God Bless" and Ernest Sims, a veteran, was arrested for asking for spare change for a bus fare.[280] The debate was seated in the fact that other individuals and organizations were allowed to raise funds on the streets without being charged for a crime, yet these man were jailed for the same principle.[279] The results of these cases were positive for the ACLU side - Judge Robert Jonker ruled in 2012 that the law is unconstitutional and in 2013 the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that begging is protected speech under the First Amendment.[279] On the opposition side of this case and wider debate was the State Attorney General Bill Schuette who appealed the ruling that the state law violated the First Amendment. Schuette contended that the city and the state safety is at risk and there were concerns around pedestrian and vehicle traffic, protection of businesses and tourism, as well as fraud.[281] The state and argued that it had an interest in preventing Fraud - Schuette contended that not all who beg are legitimately homeless or use the funds they raise to meet basic needs, the money goes to alcohol and other substances. The court agreed with Schuette that preventing fraud and duress are in the interest of the state, but directly prohibiting begging does not align with the prevention of fraud as they are not necessarily intertwined.[281]

This debate resurfaced again in 2016 with the two sides again being prevention of unwanted behaviours and preservation of constitutional rights. In Battle Creek, officials passed a pair of proposals that are aimed at limiting panhandling and loitering throughout the city.[282] City commissioners were split in the vote along with the general public. Under the new ordinances the following situations could lead to legal apprehension by the police - remaining idly within 25 feet of an intersection without a license; soliciting money from anyone near building entrances, restrooms, ATMS or in line; panhandling between sunset and sunrise on public property without an official license or permit; approaching another person in a way that would cause a reasonable person to feel terrorized, intimidated or harassed; forcing oneself upon another i.e. continuing to ask for money after being turned down. Any violations can be considered civil infractions and can result in fines. The bill, aimed at targeting 'aggressive' panhandling was passed in September 2016.[282]

There are a range of implications that come along with the criminalization of begging behaviours. Jessica Vail is the program manager of the Grand Rapids Area Collation to End Homelessness and contends that it is more cost efficient for people to not be homeless and it also keeps our criminal justice system from getting overloaded.[283] Don Mitchell conducted research in 1998 on the criminalization of behaviours associated with homelessness and begging and highlighted the negative effect this has on the cycle of homelessness and crime. Criminalizing behaviours that are necessary for the survival of homeless people such as begging, sleeping and sitting in public, loitering in parks and on streets and urinating and defecating in public leads them to be subjects of the criminal justice system.[284] ACLU legislative liaison Shelli Weisberg consolidates this notion of a cyclical disadvantage in 2016 - fining people who cannot afford to pay a fine for something they cannot avoid doing and then putting them in a system where they cannot afford to defend themselves or challenge these offences questions how just the criminalization of such acts is.[285]


In Minnesota, the prevalence of panhandling, solicitation and begging in relation to homelessness have been deemed to be distinctive to each city. For example, in Stevens County, administrators of social service programs unanimously agreed that rural poverty is distinguishable by location and panhandlers have a low presence in Stevens County, while a high frequency in the city of Minneapolis situated in Hennepin County.[286]

In 2013, a statewide study conducted by the Wilder Foundation on Homelessness indicated the presence of 10,214 homeless in Minnesota. The one-day count was conducted by 1,200 volunteers around 400 locations known to attract homeless such as transitional housing, shelters, drop in sites, hot meal programs and church basements. An increase of six percent in homeless were observed since the last study in 2009, while 55% of the homeless population were females and over 46% were under the age of 21.[287]

In a study conducted by St Stephen's Street Outreach staff, 55 panhandlers were surveyed in downtown Minneapolis to determine why people beg and how local police treat panhandlers. Individual responses neither collectively favoured negative or positive responses for the interaction between police and panhandlers. Examples of responses include that the police 'give you trouble', tell them to 'get the hell out of here' and 'give you a ticket', while other individuals believed that police were 'usually understanding', 'gentle' and 'very friendly and helpful'.[288]

In 2004, Minneapolis' anti-begging law was overturned due to its breach of the First Amendment, the right to free speech. As a result of this response, the city council of Minneapolis collectively agreed to implement a modified version of the anti begging law. Although panhandlers are protected by the First Amendment, those who aggressively solicit and/or in prohibited locations are in the act of violating the Minneapolis City Ordinance 385.60.[289] This regulation is violated when an individual offers a service of low value for a donation or verbally requests for an object or money in locations such as the entry way of a government building, near a parked vehicle, near public transport, in or near a restroom, on a crosswalk, entertainment venues, petrol station, convenience store or near a financial establishment.[290] The individual must also use either physical contact, threaten criminal activity upon property, block entrances, stalk, use abusive language, suggest body mutilation if not given money, beg in groups of more than one person, beg under the influence of drugs or alcohol and solicit in the night hours after sunset and before sunrise in those areas.[291] The purpose of the Minneapolis city ordinance 385.60 is to protect the public for being hounded by panhandlers at certain locations. However, law in the state of Minnesota does not prohibit passive panhandling, such as holding a sign without verbal interaction and focuses on aggressive panhandling as a breach of the law. Other cities in Minnesota such as Rochester, Brooklyn Center and St Paul have similar versions of the ordinance and have all avoided judicial scrutiny on the grounds of protecting individual privacy against assault based behaviour.[292]

Efforts by the population of Minnesota to redirect the money given to panhandlers to organizations that aim to end homelessness have been implemented in the city of Minneapolis. An example of this is 'Give Real Change', a campaign that began in 2009 with the aim to end homelessness for 300 to 500 people in areas within Minneapolis by the end of 2025. Billboards implemented by the campaign that display 'Say NO To Panhandling and YES To Giving,' urge community members to stop giving money to beggars and alternatively donate it to an organization that allocates money to shelters to end homelessness. The executive director of St Stephens Human Services, Gail Dorfman is a supporter of the initiative and believes that it can act as a long term solution for homelessness.[293]


It is estimated that there are at least 1,738 homeless people in the US state of Mississippi, according to the 2016 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress prepared by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.[294] This number is likely to be much greater as this survey only provides a snapshot of homelessness rates at the time of data collection in January 2016. Although homeless people in Mississippi comprise less than 1% of the total US homeless population and there has been a 37% reduction in the number of homeless people in Mississippi from 2010 figures, the state has a comparably high rate of unsheltered homeless people (50%) which is only surpassed by US states such as California, Oregon, Hawaii and Nevada.[294] Moreover, the state also has the second highest rate of unsheltered homeless veterans in the country (60%) and the fourth highest rate of unsheltered homelessness for people with a disability (84%).[294]

Anti-panhandling laws[edit]

High rates of homeless people living without suitable accommodation and in public areas creates greater awareness of their presence both by the local community and policing agencies and has resulted in the introduction of laws directed against acts associated with homelessness, otherwise known as vagrancy including begging or panhandling. While in most US states such legislation is primarily enacted and included in city ordinances rather than state law, in Mississippi, the 2015 Mississippi Code provides for a specific definition of vagrancy that allows for "able-bodied persons who go begging for a livelihood" to be punished as vagrants as they are seen to be committing crimes against public peace and security.[295] In addition, Title 99, Chapter 29 of the Code mandates law enforcement officers to arrest known vagrants with those deemed 'vagrant' subjected to fines for a first offence and up to six months imprisonment and the payment of court costs for subsequent offences.[296] These definitions and penalties for homelessness have remained largely unchanged historically in the state of Mississippi which has tended to define vagrants to include those living in idleness or without employment and having no means of support, prostitutes, gamblers as well as beggars.[297] In fact, those who fall under these population groups continue to be defined as vagrants under the 2015 Mississippi Code.[298] Controversially, such wide and discriminatory definitions have been tied to Mississippi's poor race relations with African Americans with vagrancy legislation in the latter half of the 19th century linked to "keeping black people in their rightful place" on the slave plantations.[299] As a consequence, Mississippi's 'Black Code' on vagrancy applied in a racially discriminatory manner to African Americans such as ex-slaves and 'idle blacks' as well as white Americans who associated themselves with African Americans.[300] While Mississippi was the first US state to enact such discriminatory and punitive legislation against African Americans, it was certainly not the last, with states including South Carolina, Alabama and Louisiana following Mississippi's lead with similar 'Black Code' legislation in 1865 that targeted homeless ex-slaves.[299]

In Jackson, Mississippi's largest city, begging or panhandling is specifically prohibited under the definition of "commercial solicitation". Begging is banned within 15 feet of public toilets, automatic teller machines (ATMs), parking lots, outdoor eating areas, pay telephones, bus stops, subway stations and entirely within the central business district.[301] In addition, begging is also banned after sunset and before sunrise and it is unlawful to "aggressive solicit" by blocking the path of another person, following another person, using abusive language or making a statement or gesture that would cause fear by a reasonable person. Penalties for a first offence include a warning, citation or seven days community service, subject to law enforcement and prosecutor discretion. For subsequent offences, penalties may include up to 30 days community service, a $1,000 fine or up to 30 days imprisonment.[301] However, it should be noted that passive solicitation is not unlawful. This means that simply holding a sign asking for money is not illegal and in fact, is protected by the Jackson city ordinance that prohibits panhandling. Similar legislation that prohibits begging is also in place in Mississippi's second largest city, Gulfport.[302]

In July 2012, Jackson City Councilman Quentin Whitwell proposed tripling existing fines and implementing longer jail sentences for panhandling in response to heightened community concern about aggressive panhandlers and an escalating panhandling "epidemic".[303] However, this proposal was later rejected by the Jackson City Council amidst concerns from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Mississippi that prohibiting panhandling under city ordinances may violate First Amendment rights under the US Constitution that protect freedom of speech.[304] On the streets of Jackson, for people experiencing homelessness such as Raymond Quarles, city ordinances such as those originally proposed to prohibit begging increase their susceptibility to counter-productive law enforcement attention and policing activity. For instance, Raymond was arrested at least 10 times in as little as one month in Jackson shortly after experiencing homelessness from the combined effects of relationship breakdown, financial stress and a deterioration in physical health. What Raymond and the ACLU call for are additional support services to assist homeless community members find employment, housing and other support services rather than a "revolving door of crime" and entry into the criminal justice system that is perpetuated through simplistic bans on panhandling and other associated acts of vagrancy.[304] While the US Supreme Court has not decisively decided on this issue and there is considerable debate as to whether begging constitutes conduct or speech, Fraser (2010) suggests that begging is likely to constitute speech and therefore blanket bans on begging in public areas enacted by local governments as in the case of Mississippi cities such as Jackson and Gulfport are likely to be unconstitutional and in breach of the First Amendment.[305]


Over 10,000 people are considered to be living without permanent accommodation in Nebraska, with a little over half of those situated in Omaha and a quarter in the state's capitol of Lincoln.[306] According to The University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Centre on Children, Families and Law a little over half of Nebraska's homeless population is situated in Omaha and a quarter in Lincoln with the balance in spread over the rest of the state.[306] Approximately 10 percent of those homeless in Nebraska are considered 'chronically homeless' and have either been homeless for an entire year or homeless four times in a three-year period.[306] Such statistics have prompted the Nebraskan Government to implement a newly revised 10-year plan for dealing with homelessness which a vision of '[supporting] a statewide Continuum of Care that coordinates services provided to all people and that promotes safe, decent, affordable, and appropriate housing resulting in healthy and viable Nebraskan communities'.[307]

Charles Coley, executive director of the Metro Area Coalition of Care of the Homeless and member of the Nebraska Commission on Housing and Homelessness said that '[the commission] chose to strategically to align [their] goals with the goals of the federal strategic plan to prevent homelessness'.[308] Coley further stated that the 'four goals are end chronic homelessness, secondarily end veteran homelessness, thirdly end child/family and youth homeless and then finally set a path to reducing overall homelessness'. Of those currently living without permanent accommodation in Nebraska, a portion of those are Veterans and those fleeing domestic violence.[308]

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits 'the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, ensuring that there is no prohibition on the free exercise of religion and abridging the freedom of speech'. In the United States, Panhandling is typically protected by the First Amendment as one has the right to free speech with many states and cities respecting citizen's right to free speech and allowing panhandling.[309] In the Nebraskan city of Omaha, panhandling is currently illegal.[310] Previously, the Omaha Panhandling Ordinance stipulated that 'anyone who wants to solicit money - other than a religious organization or a charity - must obtain written permission from the police chief' with religious organizations and charities protected under the First Amendment of the U.S Constitution.[310]

As of December 2015, Omaha's current panhandling ordinance states that aggressive panhandling, such as approaching someone several times to ask for money or touching them without consent, is punishable by imprisonment or fine.[311] The new Omaha ordinance also outlaws other particular forms of panhandling including asking for money within 15 feet of an ATM or other location where money is dispensed, following someone to ask them for money, panhandling on private property such as going to someone's front door and asking for money, and panhandling in street traffic.[310][311]

The American Civil Liberties Union has raised numerous concerns over Omaha's previous and current panhandling ordinance as it was a violation of the First Amendment and entered negotiations with the City Attorney's Office about their unconstitutional ordinances.[311] The City Council however did not back down from their stance on panhandling, stating that they originally wanted to implement a blanket ban on the practice as it is a safety hazard and must place the safety of their citizens first.[311]

As a response to Omaha's panhandling ordinance, the Open Door Mission [311] has begun to pass out 'compassion cards' for people to give panhandlers instead of money. The cards resemble a business card which guides the individuals to the Open Door Mission and the services they provide including shelter, food, transportation, clothes and toiletries, and are able to pick people up from the corner of 14th and Douglas Streets.[311]

New Jersey[edit]

Begging laws in the state of New Jersey are determined by the ordinances set by each local government. Depending on where an individual is begging the rules and punishments can vary greatly. For example, in Middle Township, it is prohibited to aggressively beg within 100 feet of an ATM, with a first offence punishable by up to a $250 fine, 30 days jail and 5 days community service.[312] Whereas, in New Brunswick, all begging within 25 feet of any bank or ATM is considered aggressive begging, which allows police to issue a cease and desist notice. Failure to comply with the notice may incur a $50 fine for each day of being in violation.[313]

In 2013, the local governments of Middle Township and Atlantic City reached national headlines for passing ordinances that require individuals to register for a free yearly permit before being allowed to beg for money in public.[314][315] Local officials and lawmakers of Middle Township adopted the ordinance in response to complaints from the public in relation to the forceful and persistent tactics used by some panhandlers.[316] However, these begging permits did not last with Middle Township passing amendments that remove the need for permits,[317] and Atlantic City also repealing the permit requirement in April 2016.[318]

The constitutionality of anti-begging laws are contested. Bill Dressel of the New Jersey Coalition to End Homelessness explains that "it's a complicated area of the law – it's in flux".[319] Recent judicial decisions in the US Supreme Court have challenged local ordinances that prohibit or regulate panhandling in a way that is too vague. Since the decision of Reed v Town of Gilbert the courts have largely struck down panhandling bans on the grounds that they inappropriately limit the content of the speech of individuals that are panhandling.[320] Supporters of anti-begging laws argue that these ordinances do not curtail free speech as they only seek to regulate the manner of begging rather than what is being said.[321]

In 2015, John Fleming, a wheelchair-confined homeless man was arrested in New Brunswick and charged with 'disorderly conduct' for sitting on the sidewalk with a sign that read "BROKE – PLEASE HELP – GOD BLESS YOU – THANK YOU".[322][323] The New Jersey chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU–NJ) successfully challenged the local ordinance on the grounds it violated a person's First Amendment right to free expression.[324] Deputy legal director of ACLU–NJ, Jeanne LoCicero, explained that panhandling, from a constitutional standpoint, is no different to a Girl Scout troop soliciting cookie sales or collecting signatures on a petition.[325] Thus, merely targeting panhandling is problematic as it seeks to prohibit the content of the speech and not the manner of speech. The City of New Brunswick agreed to settle the case by repealing the two ordinances – one that required a permit for begging and another banning unauthorised begging – as there were "legitimate concerns regarding the constitutionality of the Ordinances".[326]

In Paterson, alleged panhandlers arrested by police are given the chance, after being fingerprinted, to engage with social service programs that address their particular needs.[327] Paterson's Police Director, Jerry Speziale, says that the initiative is a "new way to address those in need and enhance the quality of life for all".[328] However, community views on panhandling is vexed, with some Paterson council members calling upon the police to crack down on those whom have dropped out of rehabilitation programs and resumed begging. Paterson Councilman, Alex Mendez, raised that it is an issue of weak enforcement and repeated targeting of panhandlers would eliminate the problem.[329]

An ongoing police crackdown on panhandling was launched in Newark, in July 2016, seeking to deter panhandling in busy areas of the city.[330] Newark Police Director, Anthony Ambrose, said the days of leniency were over, "a panhandler definitely isn't a welcoming sight … [t]hese operations will continue until the panhandlers get the message". Civil rights activists question the legality of the crackdown, citing the successful case of John Fleming and ACLU-NJ in challenging unconstitutional prohibitions on begging.[331]

New York[edit]

In 1979, a New York City lawyer, Robert Hayes, brought a class action suit before the courts, Callahan v. Carey, against the City and State, arguing for a person's state constitutional "right to shelter". It was settled as a consent decree in August 1981. The City and State agreed to provide board and shelter to all homeless men who met the need standard for welfare or who were homeless by certain other standards. By 1983 this right was extended to homeless women.

On March 18, 2013, the New York City Department of Homeless Services reported that the sheltered homeless population consisted of:[332]

  • 27,844 adults
  • 20,627 children
  • 48,471 total individuals

According to the Coalition for the Homeless, the homeless population of New York rose to an all-time high in 2011. A reported 113,552 people slept in the city's emergency shelters last year, including over 40,000 children; marking an 8 percent increase from the previous year and a 37 percent increase from 2002. There was also a rise in the number of families relying on shelters, approximately 29,000. That is an increase of 80% from 2002. About half of the people who slept in shelter in 2010 returned for housing in 2011.[333][334]

According to the NYC Department of Homeless Services, 64 percent of those applying for emergency shelter in 2010 were denied. Several were denied because they were said to have family who could house them when in actuality this might not have been the case. Applicants may have faced overcrowding, unsafe conditions, or may have had relatives unwilling to house them. According to Mary Brosnaham, spokeswoman for Coalition for the Homeless, the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg employs a deliberate policy of "active deterrence".

Part of the problem lies with long-term joblessness that characterizes the United States' economic crisis. According to the Center for an Urban Future about a third of the adult workers in New York City are low-wage earners, making under $11.54 an hour. Affordable rent rates considered to be no more than a third of the renter's wages. A family in New York City must earn at least $54,000 to find an affordable home. The median household income for renters in the Bronx and Brooklyn is barely $30,000 and $35,000 respectively. According to the Community Service Society, "Two-thirds of poor New Yorkers and over one-third of near poor households—up to twice the poverty level—spend at least half of their incomes on rent…and place millions of low-income New Yorkers at risk of housing hardships and displacement."

The New York City Housing Authority is experiencing record demand for subsidized housing assistance. However, just 13,000 of the 29,000 families who applied were admitted into the public housing system or received federal housing vouchers known as [Section 8] in 2010. Due to budget cuts there have been no new applicants accepted to receive Section 8.[335]

In March 2010, there were protests about the Governor's proposed cut of $65 million in annual funding to the homeless adult services system.[336] The Bloomberg administration announced an immediate halt to the Advantage program, threatening to cast 15,000 families back into the shelters or onto the streets. A court has delayed the cut until May 2011 because there was doubt over the legality of cancelling the city's commitment. However, the Advantage program[337] itself was consciously advanced by the Bloomberg administration as an alternative to providing long-term affordable housing opportunities for the poor and working class. The result, as the Coalition for the Homeless report points out, is that "Thousands of formerly-homeless children and families have been forced back into homelessness, In addition, Mayor Bloomberg proposed $37 million in cuts to the city's budget for homeless services this year.[334]

In 2004, New York's Department of Homeless Services created HomeBase,[338] a network of neighborhood-based services, to help tenants in housing crisis to remain in their communities and avoid entering shelter. Tenants can visit HomeBase locations[339] within their neighborhoods to receive services to prevent eviction, assistance obtaining public benefits, emergency rental assistance and more. Brooklyn nonprofit CAMBA, Inc operates several HomeBase locations as well as an outfitted "You Can Van," which uses data on pending evictions to travel throughout the borough and offer help.

Crimes relating to begging in New York[edit]

The administration of laws and regulations relating to begging in the state of New York is largely performed by each of the 62 cities of the state. Many of the state of New York's largest cities have introduced laws in the last decade prohibiting 'aggressive begging' in some form. New York City Administrative Code §10-136,[340] City of Buffalo Code §317,[341] City of Rochester Code §44-4,[342] and Albany Code §255-59[343] prohibit forms of 'aggressive begging' which can include, but is not limited to, conduct that is likely to cause a fear of bodily harm, physical contact, approaching or blocking motor vehicles, and being within a certain distance of banks and ATMs. Syracuse City General Ordinances §16-9 and §16-11 prohibit lewd solicitation and loitering.[344] The City of Yonkers does not currently have any similar law. New York City also has bans on all begging within the subway system and in airports.[345]

This situation of banning specific aggressive elements of panhandling arose because of several challenges to previous begging laws on the grounds of constitutionality. In 1990, the ban on begging in New York City's subway was challenged in Young v. New York City Transit Authority, and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals found that the ban in this case did not infringe on First Amendment rights to free speech.[346] However, this precedent did not last long as it was seemingly overturned in 1993, in Loper v. New York City Police Department.[347] The Loper case was a challenge to the statewide law in the New York Penal Code §240.35(1) which made it an offence to loiter in a public place for the purpose of begging. New York City Police Department rarely issued fines under this law, but used it to 'move on' beggars.[345] In Loper, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals found begging in this case to be a First Amendment right. And clarified that the ban on the subway system in the Young case was a reasonable limit as, even though it was publicly owned, panhandling in the confined space of the subway system can disrupt and startle passengers and potentially cause harm.[347] Whereas, the blanket ban in all public spaces in the Loper case would leave beggars nowhere else for begging, which was considered an 'expressive activity' and thus protected by the First Amendment.

A similar judgement was made in International Society for Krishna Consciousness, Inc. v. Lee in regard to New York City's airports, which found it reasonable to ban such activities in airports.[348] This has led to the distinction between public places and public places that are not public forums. The airports and subways of New York, while being public places, are not public forums as the free exchange of ideas has never been considered its principal purpose, unlike the streets of New York.[345]

The Loper judgement is narrow in that it only forbade a blanket ban of begging, in fact it suggested city councils introduce more targeted begging laws, such as those for aggressive begging, and spoke favourably of the laws in Seattle Washington.[347] After the Loper case which found §240.35(1) of the state's Penal Code to be unconstitutional, the New York City Police Department stopped enforcing that section of the code. However, the law still technically remained in force in the rest of New York state until it was repealed in 2010.[349] This caused some people in New York state to be charged under that section of the law after Loper, but before it was repealed.[350]

Civil liberties groups have campaigned against the more targeted aggressive begging laws,[351] however, they have been found to comply with the First Amendment. In 2006, the City of Rochester's current aggressive begging laws withstood a legal challenge in People v. Barton.[352] And in 2010, New York City's current aggressive begging laws also withstood challenge in People v. Stroman.[353]


In the wider nation of the United States of America (USA), panhandling otherwise well known as begging is not illegal.[354] However, different and each state have the power to create their own laws to mitigate begging – this is similar to Australia in the sense that each state have the power to make their own laws (with a limit).[355] Panhandling is usually associated with homeless people – this is how business owners and residents near congregation of homeless people perceive it.[356]

Moreover, it has been reported that homelessness is declining in numbers nationally in the USA.[357] However, this does not mean that it is a sole effort by the federal government because each states have their own laws and own methods of dealing with homelessness together with panhandling. In Portland, Oregon the local government took efforts in trying to become a zero-homeless city.[358] This is through a 10-year plan which they proposed in 2005 which states that they would move people into affordable housing rather than moving them to temporary shelters.[358] However, in 2016 a report from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) shows that the state of Oregon has an estimated homeless population of 13,238 with about 60.5% of these people still unsheltered.[357] This means that Oregon has exceeded their time-frame (failed) and still has a long way away to go before they meet their proposed plan from 2005.

Furthermore, because there continues to be a high number of homelessness in Oregon – crime relating to such issue is not looking up. Businesses have begun to make it known that they are not accepting the presence of homeless people around their businesses regardless the circumstances these people are in.[356] Some of the complaints given are that homeless people 'scare customers away'; 'they are too noisy'; and 'they block the way' just to name a few complaints.[359][360] This obviously does not sit well with any local or state government given that businesses generate revenue and no customers mean less revenue. Such differences led to the local and state government to come up with laws which criminalize homelessness and begging on the streets. Such law which was called the 'sidewalk obstruction ordinance' gave authorities the power to arrest homeless people congregating or living on the sidewalks.[356] This was however, quashed by a judge's decision in 2009.[356] This decision took away the main tool which the police and business owners had to gain power over the homeless people.[356] Such ordinance is similar to the 'vagrancy laws' which criminalizes various things including homelessness even though there is no criminal activity involved.[361]

Rhode Island[edit]

In June 2012, Governor Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island signed a bill into law that gives homeless people in that state some clearer rights than before.[362]

San Francisco, California[edit]

The city of San Francisco, California has a significant and visible homeless problem. Approximately 61% of the homeless population were already living and working in San Francisco when they became homeless, indicating that a majority of people experiencing homelessness did not come to the city for its resources but rather are being priced out of their home.[363] The city's homeless population has been estimated at 7,000–10,000 people, of which approximately 3,000–5,000 refuse shelter due to the conditions within the shelters including violence, racism, and homophobia and transphobia. Additionally, there are only 1,339 available shelter beds for the approximately 10,000 people sleeping outdoors.[364] The city spends $200 million a year on homelessness related programs.[365] On May 3, 2004,[366] San Francisco officially began an attempt to scale back the scope of its homelessness problem by changing its strategy from cash payments to the "Care Not Cash" plan which has had no visible impact on reducing homelessness in the city. At the same time, grassroots organizations within the Bay Area such as the Suitcase Clinic work to provide referrals for housing and employment to the homeless population[citation needed]. Other organizations like the Coalition On Homelessness fight for increasing affordable and supportive housing in the quickly changing housing landscape of San Francisco. In 2010, a city ordinance was passed to disallow sitting and lying down on public sidewalks for most of the day, from 7 am until 11 pm furthering a "criminalization" strategy for responding to homelessnes

Seattle, Washington[edit]

There are about 8,000 homeless individuals in Seattle on an average day. The One Night Count in 2015 found 10,047 individuals homeless in the 3rd week in January, in King County. 3,772 individuals were without shelter in King County. 2,804 were without shelter in Seattle alone.


The act of 'aggressive panhandling' has only recently become criminalized in Tennessee; becoming official in 2015.[367] In recent years, there has been an apparent push for the need to implement anti-panhandling laws across America. It is believed that this is a result of adverse effects of the Great Recession, particularly foreclosure.[368] Under the Tennessee Code (§ 39-17-313), the act of 'aggressive panhandling' is classified as a criminal offence punishable by a fine and/or jail.[369] Per the Code, 'aggressive panhandling' is committed if an individual, while requesting money or donations:

  • intentionally touches a person without their consent
  • obstructs a person or their vehicle
  • follows a person after they refuse to give a donation
  • acts in manner that would cause a 'reasonable person' to feel threatened should they refuse to provide a donation.[369]

The severity of the punishment greatly depends on whether an individual has previously violated the Code. A first offence (classified as a Class C misdemeanour) could result in a maximum fine of $50 and/or up to 30 days in jail.[370] A second offence (classified as a Class B misdemeanour) could increase this penalty to a maximum fine of $500 and/or up to 6 months in jail.[370] While the Tennessee Code is written in very broad and general terms, several city ordinances, most of which were enacted before the Tennessee Code, provide specific restraints on the actions of panhandlers.


The Memphis Code of Ordinances contains a very lengthy and detailed section (§ 6-56) on panhandling.[371] Under this section, panhandling is prohibited within a specified zone of Downtown Memphis and is generally prohibited between the hours of 7pm and 8am.[371] Similar to the Nashville ordinance, the Memphis ordinance also expressly states areas where panhandling is prohibited including, but not limited to, within 25-feet of any religious assembly, within 50-feet of any entrance or exit from a bank/ATM machine and in any public transportation vehicle.[371]

In October 2016, the Memphis City Council voted to extend the ban on panhandling to between 5pm and 10am and to also extend the areas that panhandling is prohibited.[372] Councillor Philip Spinosa Jr. declared that this extension entirely relates to public safety.[372] He stated that the new ordinance was designed to encompass morning and evening rush hours and to make popular begging areas, such as intersections, construction zones, ramps and bridges safer for all involved.[372] In opposition, Toni Whitfield, President of the Homeless Organising for Power and Equality (HOPE),[373] stated that this extended restriction further criminalizes the homeless and diverts attention away from the lack of resources available to the homeless to combat the issues forcing them to panhandle.[372] She cited a lack of suitable employment opportunities as one of the major contributing factors to Memphis' panhandling problem.[372] Memphis Police Director Mike Rallings agreed that while panhandling is a public safety issue, he still believes that the imposition of fines is highly ineffective as most panhandlers, most of whom are homeless, are unable to pay the fine.[374]

In response to the strict anti-panhandling laws in place in Memphis, a local not-for-profit organization, Hospitality Hub,[375] in partnership with the Memphis City Council has launched a 'Work Local' program.[376] This program aims to reduce poverty in Memphis by offering temporary clean-up work.[376] If an individual successfully completes this work, it may provide them with an opportunity to receive permanent housing and employment.[376] Memphis Major Jim Strickland states that this program helps to contribute to the city's need to ensure every member of the community can live a "better life".[376] Associate Director of Hospitality Hub, Kelcey Johnson, states that individuals involved in the program will receive lunch, housing for a night and access to mental health services, healthcare, addiction services and a jobs program.[376] Overall, 'Work Local' aims to provide individuals with greater prospects than what panhandling could offer them.[376]


Under the Nashville Code of Ordinances (§ 11-12-090), 'aggressive panhandling' is explicitly prohibited at any bus stop, sidewalk café, day-care or community education facility, within 25-feet of an ATM machine and within 10-feet of the point of entry or exit of any public building.[377] In addition, an individual is prohibited from engaging in the act of panhandling on any day after sunset or before sunrise.[377]

Nashville Downtown Partnership,[378] a private sector not-for-profit organization, currently runs an explicit anti-panhandling campaign.[379] Per their movement, providing donations to panhandlers is a lose-lose situation – panhandlers lose by not seeking real help and donators lose as their money is being used to fuel addictions.[379] They urge residents to redirect their donations to local organizations who provide services to panhandlers and/or to invest their time volunteering.[379] Their campaign also provides advice to citizens on how to appropriately respond to panhandlers.[379]

Passive panhandling[edit]

It is important to note that while panhandling is heavily regulated in Tennessee, panhandling as a general action is legal within the state.[379] This is demonstrated in both the Nashville and Memphis ordinances. They state that passively sitting, standing, or performing music without any vocal request for donations is entirely acceptable and legal conduct.[371][377] Therefore, an individual is permitted to sit passively with a sign or another form of indication that they are seeking donations.


Half of the homeless population of the U.S. reside in one of five states, with Texas having the fourth largest population.[380] Begging has been criminalized in a number of regions in the state of Texas. According to the U.S. United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, Texas has seen a decrease of 2.4% in total homelessness since 2015 [380] However, there is still over 15,000 individuals who lack housing and are considered homeless. Of this large population, 7,163 are people in families with children, 1,309 are unaccompanied youths and 1,768 are veterans.[380] Even worse, over 3000 of the homeless population are chronically homeless individuals.[380]

In February 2016, the Dallas Police Department implemented an attack on Panhandling in the central area of the city, as announced by Deputy Chief Gary Tittle [381] Because there is controversy around the issue of criminalising panhandling, the target of the police operation was defined as "that aggressive panhandler, the one approaching an individual demanding money, asking for money, impeding their walkway on the sidewalks, getting out into the street, on the curbs, moving out into the highway from the shoulder of the highway" [381]

The crackdown on panhandling and homeless in Texas partially stems from the costs associated, as the cost of healthcare is estimated to be at least $23, 223 per homeless person per year, according to the University of Texas.[382] Furthermore, taxpayers are further paying for the costs of the homeless through the expenses involved with the criminal justice system.[382] These costs are heightened as individuals who are homeless are more often than not convicted for misdemeanours and non-violent offences such as sleeping in public places, loitering, panhandling and trespassing.[383]

Unfortunately, it is difficult to gain an understanding of the magnitude of the issue because jails and prisons do not gather data relating to the housing situations of inmates, in this case, homelessness [384]

In a positive light, the rate of homelessness across the U.S. decreased overall by .6 per 10,000 from 2014 to 2015.[385] In addition, the majority of states in the U.S. experienced decreases of homelessness in every major subpopulation mentioned, including families, veterans, unaccompanied youths and individuals who experience chronic homelessness.[385]

The same issue is also occurring in Worcester, Massachusetts, where the City Manager Michael O'Brien claims he would "rather be criticized for putting these types of measures in place to protect public safety than be criticized for tragedy when someobody that's fallen on hard times is collecting pennies and quarters at our intersection and is now in the ICU and may not walk again because they were pinned underneath the car." This statement brings to light another aspect of the panhandling debate; the safety of the individuals themselves.[386] Though a number of States in the U.S., including Texas, have implemented panhandling bans, these have not occurred without their legitimacy being challenged regarding the Constitution.[387] However, San Francisco had effective legislation for prosecution of people found panhandling but this legislation was later found unconstitutional by a federal court in the case of Blair v. Shanahan (1991). It was found that it was a violation of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.[387] The federal Constitution protects the right to panhandle under free speech clauses, as seen in San Francisco but not Texas due to the laws implemented early 2016 [381]

The Houston, Texas area has a civility ordinance affecting the Downtown Central Business District, Midtown Houston, and the Montrose/Neartown area where panhandling and loitering is illegal - this also includes public feeding of the homeless. Elevated highways around the Downtown Houston CBD area (U.S. 59/Interstate 69 adjacent to the George R. Brown Convention Center, Pierce Elevated, and a section of U.S. 59 east of Spur 527 have perimeter fencing where the homeless once congregated.

With the laws being challenged yet still in action in many areas, it leaves the place for panhandling in society unknown.


In the state of Utah begging or panhandling is not a crime.[388] The first amendment right protects people to ask for money, help or employment on the streets – this includes panhandling or begging.[388] Following a lawsuit in 2010 three homeless persons were fined for begging and they took the matter to court and won.[388] The court found that fining people for asking for money violated their right to free speech, thus infringing upon the first amendment. In 2010 Salt Lake City agreed not to enforce the state panhandling restriction and therefore law enforcement were not allowed to ticket homeless people panhandling alongside motorways or begging on the street.[389] However, the first amendment right only protects the panhandler if they are on sidewalks or on the side of the roadways – if you get caught panhandling in the road ways, it's a misdemeanour charge that can cost up to $100 or more depending on how many times you get caught. This is because it's a safety issue and people are often hit at traffic lights when they turn green.[389]

Homelessness and panhandling in Utah was a major issue in 2005, and the city implemented a 10-year plan hoping to eradicate homelessness by 2015.[390] Though they have not completely stopped homelessness, the state has been extremely successful at eliminating homelessness by 91%.[391] In 2005 there were over 1,932 chronically homeless persons in Utah and in 2015 this figure has dropped to a staggering 178 people.[391] However, unlike many other states across the U.S the state government did not implement hardline laws to breakdown its homelessness problem through fining, prosecuting or 'moving on'; but implemented a simple solution to the complex problem which was the 'housing first' program.[392] The primary focus was to put homeless people into housing first, and then help them deal with the underlying issues that made them became homeless from addictions, mental health and health care.[393] The last step is then to help them find employment. Studies have shown investing in homes for the homeless actually saves money in the long run.[393] It cost approximately $19,208 a year for the state to take care of its homeless people. This is through hospital visits, time in custody, shelter time and ambulance callouts.[394] In comparison, it only cost approximately $7,800 a year for the state to provide a house and holistic case management.[394] Critics say this solution may intensify laziness, however residents need to pay rent which is 30% of their income or $50 a month, whatever amount is greater.[393]

A reason behind the Utah success in eliminating homelessness can be attributed to an array of factors. Comparatively to other states such as California, Utah is quite small with a total population of 2,995,919 residents. It is also one of the least densely populated states in the U.S. Furthermore, Utah has the 14th highest median average income and remarkably has the least income inequality of any U.S state.[395] This makes Utah one of the best cities in the United States to live in due to combination of good economic factors, community services and health related services.[395] Comparatively, homelessness in San Francisco is a major current issue. This is because it's the second most densely populated city in USA with large income inequality due to high rent and cost of living therefore making it a lot more difficult to implement the 'housing first' model of Utah.[395] Overall, Utah has been quite progressive in its response to panhandling and begging, firstly by not considering it a crime and secondly by implementing the successful housing first program.


The laws and regulations around panhandling in Virginia vary greatly between cities and counties within the state. Some prohibit panhandling in specific areas (such as shopping centres and intersections), other counties have proposed the possibility of permits, and others are still very unclear on their position both in legislation and enforcement.[396] Generally, exclusions for panhandling may include on public streets, if impeding traffic, within 50 feet of a retailer, or on sidewalks of a certain size.[396] Furthermore, activities such as playing loud music and preventing the movement of others are also prohibited. Some laws are said to be in place to reduce public harassment caused by people asking for money.[396]

The city of Manassas, Virginia goes into more detail about its definitions around panhandling regulations. Specifically, it prohibits an aggressive manner which is explained as the persistent requesting of money after the person being solicited has made a negative response that induces some sort of fear or intimidation.[397] It further prohibits intentionally blocking or interfering with the passage of another person, and abusive language or gestures.[397] The city of Manassas also lists a number of intersections that prohibits panhandling within 150 feet.[397] Other cities in Virginia vary in their regulations, for example, the City of Colonial Heights takes a preventative approach, although it does not state specifically how it would work to provide the prevention of street begging, whether through law enforcement or social assistance policies.[398] The Lee County, Virginia, in Jonesville, has a much stronger approach in their legislation aiming to 'restrain and punish' begging.[399] Tazewell County, Virginia[400] and the City of Buena Vista, Virginia[401] both merely state that begging is prohibited without expanding much further.

In some counties in Virginia, there was discussion proposals to introduce permits for panhandlers. Permits proposed would be required for people verbally asking for donations, as well as actions and behaviours requesting donations within a public space.[388] The idea has been quite contentious.

Some media reports reflect calls for increased enforcement of laws against panhandlers,[402] and others report that the ban on panhandling in public spaces is against the civil liberties of individuals, and unconstitutional as it infringes on the First Amendment.[403] In regards to the permit proposal, community opinion was split, with some calling strongly for the implementation of a $25 permit that would need to be carried by panhandlers.[404] The proposal is yet to be approved, with many opposing the idea, questioning where people would be able to get the money and documents required to purchase the permit, who would be allowed to attain a permit and who would be excluded, and how these permits would restrict the accessibility, and monitor the livelihoods of, panhandlers.[404]

A lot of the calls for increasing panhandling restrictions are reporting that it is for the safety of people engaging in panhandling, and for motorists in regards to begging on motorways.[404] However, the Arlington Police Department in Virginia reportedly discouraged citizens from giving to panhandlers in the area, in that "there's no telling what the cash will be used for".[405] While many are discouraging giving to panhandlers on motorways due to the context of 'risk', they also appear to portray an underlining negative bias and view of illegitimacy toward people who engage in panhandling. As police in some counties cannot directly arrest someone for begging, the Arlington Police Department note that they do arrest panhandlers for other offences for jaywalking and other traffic related offences.[405] This was mirrored in a media article in Chesterfield, VA, where it was reported in 2011 that 14 panhandlers were arrested for steeping on to the street under traffic offenses.[406]

The laws and regulations in Virginia are incredibly varied, making it difficult for panhandlers to know their rights and legitimacy in the area, particularly if one does not have access to the resources in order to find this information. Even within the legislation, the definitions and language tends to be of a broad and very subjective nature. There is also conflicting motivations for further restricting panhandling in the area, with discourses around both the safety as well as the legitimacy of panhandling taking place, particularly in the local media.

Washington, D.C.[edit]

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development estimated in 2013 the number of homeless in Washington, D.C. as 6,865, which was a 29 percent increase after 2007.[407] D.C. ranks eighth regarding total homeless population among other major American cities. The city passed a law that requires to provide shelter to everybody in need when the temperature drops below freezing.[408] Since D.C. does not have enough shelter units available, every winter it books hotel rooms in the suburbs with an average cost around $100 for a night. According to the D.C. Department of Human Services, during the winter of 2012 the city spent $2,544,454 on putting homeless families in hotels,[409] and budgeted $3.2 million on hotel beds in 2013.[410] Homeless advocates Mitch Snyder and Eric Sheptock come from D.C.

Washington State

The many cities within Washington each have differing laws when it comes to begging and other associated crimes. While begging is protected under the First Amendment, certain cities have attempted to find ambiguity's in this right to freedom of speech, while others use more discretion when it comes to panhandling.

The city of Tacoma has passed laws which have quashed any form of panhandling in public forums. Panhandling is banned anywhere which is within 15 feet of ATMs, bus stops, pay phones, parked cars, gas stations, outdoor stations, cafes and carwashes within the city.[411] More specifically, it is illegal on buses, freeway ramps and on intersections. Moreover, in the hours between sunset and sunrise, it is prohibited entirely. Those who are found to be in breach of this ordinance could be penalized with 90 days in jail or be fined $1000.[411] While the city of Arlington's laws are not as strict, with panhandling being banned anywhere within 300 feet of these certain areas, violators too can be met with the same harsh forms of punishment.[412] A more controversial law was passed in October 2015, when the city of Everett amended previous code which categorised 'aggressive panhandling' as just a misdemeanour.[413] This new law prevents begging 'in a manner that hinders or obstructs the free passage of any person in a public place' or begging that 'intentionally causes or attempts to cause another person to reasonably fear imminent bodily harm or the commission of a criminal act upon their person, or upon property in their immediate possession.' [414] The passing of the law has been met with mass condemnation, with many critics saying it criminalizes homelessness, while the ACLU called it 'unconstitutional, ineffective and unnecessarily costly and punitive.' [413]

The city of Seattle's stance on panhandling is not as hardline as many of the other cities in Washington. For example, in 2010 an amendment was sponsored which would enable stronger panhandling laws that included a regulation against 'intimidating words and gestures' and obstructing someone's walking path.[415] Moreover, a $50 fine was proposed to be the punishment for anyone found to be 'aggressively panhandling.' While the bill was initially passed, Mayor Mike McGinn vetoed the bill. Yet despite this opposition to a call for certain regulations on panhandling, current Mayor Ed Murray believes that it is imperative that existing laws are enforced. These current laws were enacted in 1987 and they are effectively an ordinance against aggressive panhandling. While this does represent similarities with the Everett's laws, the laws in Seattle have been seen as largely discretionary and 'feel good legislation' which have been viewed ambiguously.[415] Further opposition to criminalising begging was demonstrated recently when the city of Lakewood's anti-panhandling ordinance was deemed unconstitutional in the case The City of Lakewood v Robert W. Willis.[416] Laws were considered 'overbroad' by the courts as they restrict panhandling in several locations without seeing if there is actually obstruction of traffic. This case has also led to discussion surrounding whether to charge an individual with obstructing traffic or with begging.

New Mexico[edit]

Homelessness throughout the state of New Mexico, as it does in all habitable centres around the globe, presents social, political, ethical and economic implications that need to be addressed in order to mitigate the negative externalities associated with it. Through a quantitative analysis into the direct fiscal costs confronting the municipality, this paper will explore some of the leading causes of homelessness and ways in which it has been mitigated in New Mexico. Moreover, Insight and measures to alleviate this predicament is currently being undertaken by NGO and government initiatives ascribed to solving the issue both locally and abroad.

Homelessness is a serious issue throughout the state of New Mexico. Through a demographic examination it becomes evident that New Mexico has a high proportion of ethnographies that are currently and historically socioeconomically disadvantaged.[417] Native Americans as a proportion of the US population represent the second highest amongst all States with only Alaska having a higher ratio, while it also has a large Hispanic population. Homelessness is a direct cause from an individual not being able to provide themselves with the most basic of necessities to maintain a healthy life hence having a higher proportion of individuals in poverty places a greater risk of an individual becoming homeless.A study into cost of homelessness on the state government of New Mexico concluded that on a per nightly basis Emergency Shelter costs $30USD; Supportive Housing $33USD, State Penitentiary$77USD, Santa Fe County Detention Centre $82USD, St Vincent Hospital $550USD and UNM Hospital $716USD . Homelessness by and large is caused by or as a result of health care complications. One need only consider ailments such as addiction, psychological disorders, HIV/AIDS and an array of other ailments that require consistent long term care that cannot be well managed in an unsafe, unpredictable environment that confronts most homeless .

Inability to adequately manage these medical problems places a further economic burden on the state as the frequency and duration of hospital visits may increase. This phenomenon is evidenced by the fact that on average homeless spent four days longer than comparable non-homeless, costing the State approximately $2,414USD per hospitalization . Homelessness causes both serious mental and physical anguish as evidenced by the fact that a homeless person's psychiatric hospitalization rate is 100 times more than their non-homeless compatriot .

Due to New Mexico's strong laws against loitering, sleeping in cars and begging (traits a lot of homeless people are forced to do) they are disproportionately over represented in the prison system . Police officials can accuse any person they believe may have attempted to disrupt the peace, regardless of whether or not the offense presents danger to the community . Panhandling is an umbrella term that represents begging, sponging and spanging. In the state of New Mexico there are strict regulations on panhandling. Moreover, homeless people are prohibited to beg after dark and if they do they are often sent to jail. In an attempt to remove homeless people from the streets, it is common for the police to dispose of their property and this causes homeless people to be a part of a self-perpetuating cycle of crime .

Public attitudes[edit]

Many advocates for the homeless contend that a key difficulty is the social stigma surrounding homelessness. Many associate a lack of a permanent home with a lack of a proper bathroom and limited access to regular grooming. Thus, the homeless become "aesthetically unappealing" to the general public. Research shows that "physically attractive persons are judged more positively than physically unattractive individuals on various traits…reflecting social competence." [418]

In addition to the physical component of stigmatization exists an association of the homeless with mental illness. Many people consider the mentally ill to be irresponsible and childlike and treat them with fear and exclusion, using their mental incapacitation as justification for why they should be left out of communities.[419]

There is anecdotal evidence that many Americans complain about the presence of homeless people, blame them for their situation, and feel that their requests for money or support (usually via begging) are unjustified. In the 1990s, particularly, many observers and media articles spoke of "compassion fatigue" a belief that the public had grown weary of this seemingly intractable problem.

A common misconception persists that many individuals who panhandle are not actually homeless, but actually use pity and compassion to fund their lifestyles, making up to $20 an hour and living luxurious lives.[420] This exception to the rule seems more prevalent due to media attention, but in reality, only a few cases exist.[421]

Public opinion surveys show relatively little support for this view, however. A 1995 paper in the American Journal of Community Psychology concluded that "although the homeless are clearly stigmatized, there is little evidence to suggest that the public has lost compassion and is unwilling to support policies to help homeless people."[422] A Penn State study in 2004 concluded that "familiarity breeds sympathy" and greater support for addressing the problem.[423]

A 2007 survey conducted by Public Agenda, a nonprofit organization that helps leaders and their citizens navigate through complex social issues, found that 67 percent of New Yorkers agreed that most homeless people were without shelter because of "circumstances beyond their control," including high housing costs and lack of good and steady employment. More than one-third (36 percent) said they worried about becoming homeless themselves, with 15 percent saying they were "very worried." More interestingly, 90 percent of New Yorkers believed that everyone has a right to shelter, and 68 percent believed that the government is responsible for guaranteeing that right to its citizens. The survey found support for investments in prevention, rental assistance and permanent housing for the homeless.[424]

Public Agenda has also concluded, however, that the public's sympathy has limits. In a 2002 national survey, the organization found 74 percent say the police should leave a homeless person alone if they are not bothering anyone. In contrast, 71 percent say the police should move the homeless if they are keeping customers away from a shopping area and 51 percent say the homeless should be moved if they are driving other people away from a public park.[425]

Statistics and demographics[edit]

Completely accurate and comprehensive statistics are difficult to acquire for any social study, but especially so when measuring the ambiguous hidden, and erratic reality of homelessness. All figures given are estimates. In addition, these estimates represent overall national averages; the proportions of specific homeless communities can vary substantially depending on local geography.[426]

Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress[edit]

Perhaps the most accurate, comprehensive, and current data on homelessness in the United States is reported annually by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in the Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress (AHAR), released in June of every year since 2007. The AHAR report relies on data from two sources: single-night, point-in-time counts of both sheltered and unsheltered homeless populations reported on the Continuum of Care applications to HUD; and counts of the sheltered homeless population over a full year provided by a sample of communities based on data in their Management Information Systems (HMIS).[30]

Other statistics[edit]

Homeless children in the United States.[65] The number of homeless children reached record highs in 2011,[427] 2012,[63] and 2013[428] at about three times their number in 1983.[63]

Total number[edit]

Over the course of the year (October 2009-September 2010), the 2010 Annual Homeless Assessment Report found that 1,593,150 individuals experienced homelessness[429][430] Most were homeless temporarily. The chronically homeless population (those with repeated episodes or who have been homeless for long periods) decreased from 175,914 in 2005 to 123,833 in 2007.[431]

Familial composition[edit]

According to the NCHWIH report:[432]

  • 51.3% are single males.
  • 24.7% are single females.
  • 23% are families with children—the fastest growing segment.
  • 5% are minors unaccompanied by adults.
  • 1.37 million (or 39%) of the total homeless population are children under the age of 18.

Marital status[edit]

According to the 2014 NCHWIH report:[432]

  • 24% are married.
  • 76% are single.
  • 67.5% are single males within the single percentage.
  • 32.5% are single females within the single percentage.


According to the 2010 SAMHSA report, among long-term stayers (persons staying six months or more) in emergency shelters in 2008:[429]

  • 56.6% were Black/African-American
  • 28.7% were Hispanic/Latino

According to the 2014 NCHWIH report:[432]

  • 42% are African American (over-represented 3.23x compared to 13% of general population).
  • 38% are Caucasian (under-represented 0.53x compared to 72% of general population).
  • 20% are Hispanic (over-represented 1.25x compared to 16% of general population).
  • 4% are Native American (over-represented 4x compared to 1% of general population).
  • 2% are Asian-American (under-represented 0.4x compared to 5% of general population).

Mental health[edit]

According to the 2010 SAMHSA report:[429]

  • 26.2% of all sheltered persons who were homeless had a severe mental illness
  • About 30% of people who are chronically homeless have mental health conditions.

According to analyses of data from the 1996 NSHAPCxiv:[433]

  • Over 60% of people who are chronically homelessness have experienced lifetime mental health problems

Substance abuse[edit]

According to the 2010 SAMHSA report:[429]

  • 34.7% of all sheltered adults who were homeless had chronic substance abuse issues
  • About 50% of people who are chronically homeless co-occurring substance abuse problems.

According to analyses of data from the 1996 NSHAPCxiv:[433]

  • Over 80% have experienced lifetime alcohol and/or drug problems


According to the 1996 Urban Institute findings of the National Survey of Homeless Assistance Providers and Clients (UIHAC) report[434]

  • 53% have less than a high school education
  • 21% have completed high school
  • 27% have some education beyond high school.


According to the 1996 UIHAC report[434]

  • 44 percent did paid work during the past month. Of these:
  • 20 percent worked in a job lasting or expected to last at least three months.
  • 25 percent worked at a temporary or day labor job.
  • 2 percent earned money by peddling or selling personal belongings.

A 2010 longitudinal study of homeless men conducted in Birmingham, Alabama, found that most earned an average of ninety dollars per week while working an average of thirty hours per week[435]


According to the 2010 SAMHSA report:[429]

  • 71% reside in central cities.
  • 21% are in suburbs.
  • 9% are in rural areas.


According to the 2010 SAMHSA report:[429] Research on shelter use in New York City and Philadelphia concluded that

  • People experiencing transitional homelessness constitute 80% of shelter users
  • People experiencing episodic homelessness comprise 10% of shelter users.

In New York City

  • Transitionally homeless individuals experience an average of 1.4 stays over a 3-year period, for a total of 58 days on average over the 3 years.
  • Episodically homeless individuals, on average, experience 4.9 shelter episodes over a 3-year period totaling 264 days with an average length of stay of 54.4 days.

Data from the 1996 NSHAPC show that about 50% of people who were homeless were experiencing their first or second episode of homelessness, which typically lasted a few weeks or months to one year.

See also[edit]


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