Study: City’s Anti-homelessness Laws Perpetuate Poverty

Ilene Eng
By Ilene Eng
August 21, 2019US News

SAN FRANCISCO—The Golden State’s homeless issue has been an ongoing problem. Regulations have been introduced in an attempt to solve the crisis, but one criminal justice researcher says they are doing more harm than good.

Assistant professor of criminal justice studies at San Francisco State University, Dilara Yarbrough, and her colleagues have published a study that examines the effectiveness of anti-homelessness legislation.

They surveyed over 300 homeless people in San Francisco and interviewed 43 more unhoused people. They also looked at the immediate effects of the laws without factoring in drugs or abuse.

And what did they find?

“People’s belongings being destroyed, people losing priceless family mementos and photographs, people having their medication destroyed,” Yarbrough said of San Francisco’s policy protocols, citations, and sanitation sweeps. This is the situation that those living on San Francisco’s streets are facing, she said.

NTD Photo

Dilara Yarbrough says there are ways to resolve a citation, but most homeless ignore it on Aug. 16, 2019. (Ilene Eng/NTD)According to a July 31 press release, the study found that the policies and laws perpetuate poverty and inequality.

“They give people tickets for sleeping or existing or lodging or whatever in public space,” Yarbrough said. “The average ticket for an anti-homeless citation we found is $150. Do homeless people have $150? No, they don’t. And so these citations just add up and create a cycle of debt. This can result sometimes in [the] suspension of a driver’s license.”

That would make it difficult to find a job without an ID or get to places.

Even if they aren’t arrested, the laws are designed to punish, Yarbrough said. They have created a never-ending cycle of homelessness.

NTD Photo
Dilara Yarbrough says the homeless are stuck in a never-ending cycle of citation debt at San Francisco State University on Aug. 16, 2019. (Ilene Eng/NTD)

“Instead of moving out of public space, because there is no where to go, there is a constant churn around the city from neighborhood to neighborhood,” she explained.

The study also revealed that those who have a temporary place in homeless shelters are not finding long-term solutions.

“They’re being offered kind of temporary, palliative things. Maybe a one-night bed. Some people were given a sandwich or a pamphlet accompanying these move-along orders. And that is simply not addressing the root of the issue and it’s not meeting people’s needs,” she said.

There are over a thousand people on the shelter’s waiting list every night.

Yarbrough told NTD Television that the solution lies in housing, not policing.

“Housing prices have become just untenable,” she said. “[For] whatever reason, people—sometimes who are already in precarious situations—have lost their access to that housing and ended up on the streets.”

She urged lawmakers to consider the long-term outcomes of their policies in order to try and find more permanent solutions.

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