Twitter Chat: Should homelessness be a crime?

“Imagine a world where it is illegal to sit down. Could you survive if there were no place you were allowed to fall asleep, to store your belongings or to stand still?” These are the questions asked in a new report released last week by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty on laws targeting the homeless in U.S. cities.

Over the weekend, PBS NewsHour reported on the Law Center’s findings, which were based on an analysis of laws in 187 U.S. cities from 2009 to present.

The report goes into detail on why the Law Center believes such laws are ineffective. Citing research comparing the cost of homelessness (including law enforcement and medical expenses) with the cost of affordable housing, the report suggests that laws targeting the behaviors of homeless people ultimately cost cities more than providing shelter. It also states that “criminal convictions — even for minor crimes — can create barriers to obtaining critical public benefits … making homelessness more difficult to escape.”

Are laws against loitering, sitting and sleeping in public ethical? What can U.S. cities do to end chronic homelessness? We hosted a Twitter chat to explore some of the questions raised by the report. We were joined by the National Law Center on Homeless and Poverty (@NLCHPhomeless) and the National Coalition for the Homeless (@Ntl_Homeless). Read a transcript of the discussion below.