You see it usually in black and white — the sign that reads “no loitering.” According to “No Safe Place,” a report published by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, 33% of cities have city-wide bans on loitering in public. What is loitering? What was its original intent, and how has that changed over time?
Loitering sometimes gets mixed up with solicitation but it is not the same thing. Loitering is when a person or group of people hang out or stand in one place for too long with no apparent reason. Solicitation is when a person tries to sell things (e.g., prostitution, drugs etc.). The lack of understanding of the difference between these two words often leads to the criminalization of those less fortunate and those experiencing homelessness.
An example of the lack of knowledge and training with regards to the homeless happened in the 2015 case of Johnson vs. City of Cincinnati. In this case a homeless man was arrested in a drug free zone due to an ordinance placed there. He was charged with loitering and sued the city. Federal court ruled that Johnson’s prosecution was unconstitutional because officers were not adequately trained on how to work with someone who is homeless and has nowhere else to go.
I think we need to stop criminalizing the homeless in order to get rid of them. According to the Vera Institute of Justice Report on The Price of Prison (Jan. 2012), incarceration costs taxpayers almost $39,000 a year to house one inmate. There are many other things we could be doing with that money. We could increase resources for homeless people, create more affordable housing options, and increase awareness of sex trafficking.
Although I understand the reasons why businesses and public places have no loitering ordinances, it puts a homeless person in a more stressful position. They already have nowhere to go, and now they have to find shelter somewhere else which may be dangerous because of how much violence there is on the streets. Let’s all do our best to create better training programs for officers so they can better differentiate between loitering and solicitation. We could then pay less as taxpayers to incarcerate people in general.
1 No Safe Place, The Criminalization of Homelessness in U.S. Cities, A Report by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty. (n.d.). Retrieved November 11, 2015, from www.nlchp.org/documents/No_Safe_Place
2 Johnson v. City of Cincinnati (n.d.). Retrieved November 11, 2015, from www.leagle.com/decision/1999105239FSupp2d1013_1952/Johnson v. City of Cincinnati
and over 250 youth and allies
in Olympia, Washington!
Youth Advocacy Day
Friday, January 29, 201