CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Monday, May 25, 2015

Ortiz, Dick & Rankin on Criminalizing Homelessness

Javier Ortiz Matthew Dick and Sara Rankin (Seattle University School of Law , Seattle University School of Law and Seattle University School of Law) have posted The Wrong Side of History: A Comparison of Modern and Historical Criminalization Laws on SSRN. Here is the abstract:

Like many other cities throughout the country, Washington’s homeless population is being targeted through ordinances infused with a historical spirit of control and discrimination. The policy brief looks at the history of criminalization laws by focusing on historical criminalization laws and how they paved a way for current anti-homeless ordinances. The policy brief reveals that the spirit of historical criminalization laws is present in anti-homeless ordinances today. Since these historical laws have been repealed and overturned, so should anti-homeless ordinances that share the same spirit of control, exclusion, and discrimination. 

The brief focuses on five historical laws and modern anti-homeless ordinances through case studies: Vagrancy; Anti-Okie, Jim Crow, Ugly, and Sundown Town laws. Each section discusses the impetus for each law and the effect it had on targeted individuals. Next, the brief examines specific language from these laws and how they were applied - and ultimately, how they were overturned by judges, legislatures, and public opinion. The brief then shifts focus to three case studies of modern anti-homeless ordinances. 

This comparison reveals that modern anti-homeless ordinances share much of the same form, phrasing, and function as historical laws that banned African-Americans from attending public school with white Americans; that banned Midwesterners from entering Western states during the Great Depression; and that banned people with physical disabilities from residing in certain cities. And yet, anti-homeless ordinances are just contemporary expressions of the same impulse to marginalize already marginalized people. Ultimately, this brief shows that modern anti-homeless ordinances are just historically infamous laws in a new guise.

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