An Importance Of Criminalization

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Homelessness has been an issue for centuries. During the post-war prosperity between 1950 to 1970, the gap between the rich and the poor narrowed. A ‘U-turn’ occurred during the 80s, in which the Americans faced deindustrialization. Due to the low wages, the job cuts, and the decrease in low income housing support, poverty was increasing at an alarming rate. Although homelessness was not severe until the 1980s, it has been documented since the 1640s and will always be a major issue. Today, more than ever, homeless people are criminalized for simply existing.

Since the 1640s, homelessness was seen as a character flaw. It was based on whether one was worthy in the eyes of the community’s fathers. If not, they were sent to the next town or to hamlet. Now there are many factors that play into homelessness, yet the impact of the 1640s values continue to haunt the community. Many still believe that those who are homeless need to pick themselves up and pursue their American dream. If they are unable to, then they are deemed as a waste of space and that they add no value to society. The people who believe this, fails to realize that homelessness is not just about morals. It is also about the social economic outcomes of post-war eras and the criminalization of their survival.

Drawing from my analysis of the laws that criminalize and contribute to homelessness throughout history, this paper examines some of the laws that were established to force the homeless out of the cities. This paper also examines how these laws affect the homeless community. I argue that although these laws were made to preserve the quality of life for cities, it dehumanizes and increases the homeless population. To address this issue, the community should be offered low-income housing and a stable job so that they could get back on their feet.

Vagrancy Laws

The limitation and control of poor people’s movement, the vagrancy laws, stemmed from England’s Statute of Labourers. Local colonial authorities would call it the warning-out laws because it gave them the authority to prevent any immigrants from staying and to maintain total control over the distribution of jobs. Warning-out laws served to determine who could obtain jobs in colonial towns and the legal mechanism to control access to public spaces (Ortiz & Dick, 2015). This law basically restricted immigrants, without familial ties, from working and staying out in the public spaces. In doing so, they were establishing that new people had no business in their town and that they should find a home elsewhere. The vagrancy laws were based off of the English Poor Laws and punished those who they deemed were vaguely undesirable or perceived as criminals (Ortiz & Dick, 2015). It was not until 1972 that the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a municipal vagrancy statute as unconstitutionally vague in Papachristou v. City of Jacksonville (Fisher et al, 2015).

The statute was considered vague because it encouraged unlawful arrests and the criminalization of modern standards that were supposed to be innocent.

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