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Here's How Cities Are Subtly Hiding Their Homeless Populations

Updated August 21, 2020 353.4k views12 items

Homelessness is a major issue in most cities, and it's not likely to go away anytime soon. As of 2016, an estimated 549,928 people in the United States experienced homelessness on an average night; over one-fifth of that number was comprised of children. It isn't limited to one geographic area, either. Cities with high homelessness rates include New York, Los Angeles, and Washington DC – though you might not know it if you're fortunate enough to rent or own a place there. The methods of how cities hide homelessness are as creative as they are morally questionable.

What are some of the ways cities erase homeless people? Local governments might install spikes on the ground outside of buildings, or design garbage cans so that they can't be rummaged through. Some places go even further by banning charity organizations from feeding the homeless and arresting people for sleeping outside. Homeless individuals often adapt to these new circumstances, though many end up pushed to the very outskirts of society.

Are these policies humane? Take some time to consider how towns control homeless populations, and come to your own conclusions.

  • Photo: Mabacam / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

    By Destroying Homeless People's Belongings

    The California transit bureau conducts massive raids, during which officials round up and destroy homeless people's belongings by tossing them into a garbage compactor. This can include everything from tents and garbage bags to cell phones and personal documents. In one particularly harrowing incident, a tent was crushed while someone's cat was still inside.

    Besides the loss of personal property, these types of raids can dramatically impede any progress a homeless person might make toward getting off the streets. You can't exactly get a job if you don't have a phone or documents proving your identity. Several lawsuits are in progress to attempt to stop this practice.

  • Photo: wonderferret / flickr / CC-BY 2.0

    By Establishing Rules Against Sleeping In Public

    If you've ever seen a security guard walking around a public library, eyes out for anyone who looks like they might be nodding off, you've seen this particular technique in action. Sleeping in a public building, on public transportation, and outside are activities that are banned in many cities.

    Theoretically, homeless people could stay in shelters. But shelters are often full to capacity, or are so rife with gang violence that staying on the street is preferable.

  • Photo: Chris Sansenbach / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

    By Establishing Rules Against Sleeping In Private

    Not only are homeless people harassed for falling asleep in public places, but they can also be ticketed or arrested for sleeping in private spots. For example, a homeless person sleeping in a tent in the woods might be violating the anti-camping laws that exist in many states. Someone sleeping in their own car might also be breaking a rule, depending on where they live; in Los Angeles, people are forbidden from sleeping in cars near commercial districts, homes, and schools.

  • Photo: Terabass / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

    By Installing Benches Designed To Be Uncomfortable

    Have you ever wondered why the public benches in some cities are so uncomfortable to sit on? It's not a design flaw – it's 100% intentional. Because benches are popular place for homeless people to fall asleep, they're often designed in such a way that it's impossible for someone to settle on them for long.