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Discrimination, Harassment, Criminalization, and Abuse: The Daily Horror of Homelessness

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"If people are buying things why does it matter if they are homeless or not, People in suits sit in Pret for hours on end often times having bought just a small coffee, but people who buy coffee and food throughout the day aren't welcome, Maria Marshal, 36, an Event Planner who frequents the Pret A Manger at the corner of 17th and K Street, said.

"Sure there are poor and homeless people that do things like sleep, wash up in the bathroom, but to go after a whole class of people, because of a ha ndful of people is absurd, are they going to tell businessmen who have their meetings in coffee shops that they can't hold their meetings because they take up too many chairs and have their paperwork everywhere, no of course not, so why are you going to tell a homeless person who bought the same things that the businessperson bought, they can't hang out with their friends while they enjoy their coffee or work," Michael Young, 36, an e ngineer with C. B. Richard -- Ellis said.

However; homeless discrimination doesn't stop with private establishments, it extends into political and criminal justice spheres; as well, even the advocates of the homeless tend to discriminate against them.

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"An unfortunate trend in cities around the country over the past 25 years has been to turn to the criminal-justice system to respond to people living in public spaces. This trend includes measures that target homeless persons by making it illegal to perform life-sustaining activities in public. The measures prohibit activities such as sleeping/camping, eating, sitting and begging in public spaces, usually including criminal penalties for violating these laws," according to a report by The National Coalition for the homeless and The National Law center on Homeless & poverty, titled A Dream Denied: The Criminalization of Homelessness in U.S. Cities.

Government bodies are becoming more bold in their criminalization of the homeless as was the case of Columbia South Carolina where they openly declared it to be illegal to be homeless, going so far as to imprison the homeless that refused the option of going to the one over-crowded shelter on the outskirts of the city.

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In Philadelphia where Mayor Nutter unilaterally banned feeding the homeless in the parks of the city, though the courts have stricken down the laws in both of these cases, in other cities this hasn't happened yet; such is the case with the ban on feeding the homeless in Orlando, Florida.

As the nation turns its attention to Housing for All and Housing First Models such as the successful plan being implemented in Utah, which boast a complete end to chronic homelessness by next year, by simply giving apartments and caseworkers to the homeless with no strings attached.

"It's cheaper for the state to just provide housing for everyone as opposed to cycling people in and out of jails, hospitals and shelters.  We found it cost the state more than 18 thousand dollars per person with the way things were before we started this program; we have it down to 11 thousand per person, per year," a source inside Utah Governor's office said.

"I went to a housing for all rally on Saturday and me and my partner were the only two people who actually currently lived on the streets in the whole room of over 500 people.  Here are all the people calling for housing for all but have they actually reached out to the homeless on the streets to find out what their needs are in the process?  All of these people out here are individuals with individual needs, and they haven't done anything to reach out to  them," said Finger.

If they had I bet that rally wouldn't have gone as they had planned.  Mayor Grey and the city Council spent the whole time patting themselves for what they've done which was jack, and for getting 187 million in funding for housing per year out of which they expect to only create 10,000 housing units for the 70,000 people currently on the waiting list for housing, and they say that will end homelessness by 2020, bullshit," Glidewell said.

"I go to places to get the services I need to help me get out of  this situation and I'm treated like I'm five years old or mentally handicapped, I'm in my 60s I don't need some snot-nosed brat talking to me like I'm a child or stupid, and then you can't even get everything you need in one place you have to go to ten other places and get ten other case workers it's ridiculous, and god forbid I've had enough of it and raise my voice to one of these people after dealing with this all day, they want to call the police as if I don't have a right to be upset," Marquita said.

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Discrimination against the homeless is not very different from that experience by different minority groups in the past, such as blacks, women, and the LGBTQ community; in fact it's a combination of of all of these with the economic status and lack of housing to compound preexisting prejudices.

"Not only do we as a society need to be guaranteeing full human rights whether food, clean water and air, housing, healthcare and education for all but we need to get down to brass tacks and confront discriminatory policies and thinking across the board," Finger said.

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Cory Clark is a freelance photojournalist and writer focused on civil and human rights issues, social justice and politics. He is a regular contributor with Getty Images, AP and AFP. His work has appeared in, The Guardian, Fortune (more...)

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