A Berkeley School of Law study found that since 1990, 58 California cities have enacted numerous laws that discriminate against the homeless. The average city studied had 9 such laws. San Francisco and Los Angeles each led with 23 restrictions. Homeless people are arrested far more than the average, for vagrancy, for “drunkenness”. And if they are not arrested, the homeless are cited or harassed for sleeping in public, sometimes for sitting or lying down. In essence the study concludes that the laws are used to punish people’s status, not their behavior. Researchers found that often the homeless are harassed by police or security guards without reference to any law at all. Also noted is that the trend of laws against the homeless does not seem to abate. In 2013 in California, advocates tried to pass a Homeless Bill of Rights. While it passed the Assembly Judiciary Committee, it died in the Appropriation Committee. This year the same advocates are back with a “right to rest” bill meant to extend basic human and civil rights protection for the homeless. Oregon and Colorado are also introducing similar bills.
The homeless are a neglected and vulnerable group deserving equal treatment too often denied them. As researchers put it in an L.A. Times op-ed, “One day we will look back at these anti-homeless laws, as we do now at other antiquated vagrancy laws, and wonder how we could have been so inhumane.”