By Eric Tars
Earlier this year, Jerome Murdough, a homeless Veteran, died tragically of dehydration and heat exhaustion in an overheated prison cell after being arrested for “trespassing” because he sought warmth and shelter in an enclosed stairwell of a Harlem public housing building during a week of sub-freezing temperatures. Every day, people who experience homelessness are subjected to local laws and ordinances that challenge their human rights and create real and lasting barriers. Jerome Murdough should have never been in that jail cell in the first place. If Jerome Murdough was served by a system that approached housing as a human right—and homelessness as something to solve rather than something to criminalize—he might still be alive today.
Without housing options, people often are forced to rely on culverts, public parks, streets, and abandoned buildings as places to sleep and carry out daily activities that most reserve for the privacy of their own home. As communities recognize and struggle with the fact that people without homes often live in public spaces, multiple strategies arise. Unfortunately, many of these strategies include policies that criminalize homelessness. In a new report, In the Public Eye, author Lucy Adams, of Australia’s Justice Connect and guest blogger at USICH elevates the conversation.