A Dream Denied: The Criminalization of Homelessness in U.S. Cities

National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty and The National Coalition for the Homeless

January 2006

The housing and homelessness crisis in the United States has worsened in 2005, with many cities reporting an increase in demands for emergency shelter.  In 2005, 71 percent of the 24 cities surveyed by the U.S. Conference of Mayors reported a 6 percent increase in requests for emergency shelter.   Even while the requests for emergency shelter have increased, cities do not have adequate shelter space to meet the need.  In the 24 cities surveyed in the U.S. Conference of Mayors Hunger and Homelessness Homelessness Survey for 2005, an average of 14 percent of overall emergency shelter requests went unmet, with 32 percent of shelter requests by homeless families unmet.  The lack of available shelter space – a situation made worse by the Gulf Coast hurricanes - leaves many homeless persons with no choice but to struggle to survive on the streets of our cities. This report is the National Coalition for the Homeless’ (NCH) fourth report on the criminalization of homelessness and the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty’s (NLCHP) eighth report on the topic.   The report documents the top 20 worst offenders of 2005, as well as initiatives in some cities that are more constructive approaches to the issue of people living in public spaces.  The report includes the results of a survey of laws and practices in 224 cities around the country, as well as a survey of lawsuits from various jurisdictions in which those measures have been challenged.

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