Cities and towns have laws to keep people from engaging in behavior that may disturb others, like sleeping on park benches, drinking in public, or just plain “loitering”.
What does it mean when just hanging out in a public space puts you in violation of these laws?
This hour we take a hard look at loitering ordinances and other laws that advocates argue criminalize individuals, especially those experiencing homelessness. How should cities draw the line between promoting public safety and discriminating against some of their most vulnerable citizens?
We check in with the city of Middletown, and talk with business leaders and advocates for those experiencing poverty about what it means to “loiter” on Main Street.
And we hear from a homeless couple who has experienced the far-reaching consequences of these local laws.
- Allison Frankel - One of the authors of a 2016 study from Yale Law School’s Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic, entitled: “‘Forced into Breaking the Law’: The Criminalization of Homelessness in Connecticut.” She’s now appellate counsel at the Center for Appellate Litigation in NYC (@abfrankel)
- Lydia Brewster - Assistant Director for Community Services for St. Vincent de Paul Middletown
- Larry McHugh - President of the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce
- Dan Drew - Mayor of Middletown
- Sade and Donny - Members of the “Housing Not Jails” initiative of the Connecticut Bail Fund; they are both residents of New Haven and currently homeless. They’ve asked that we don’t use their last names.
Citylab: What Is Loitering, Really? (May 2018) - “Loitering laws were finally ruled “unconstitutionally vague” by the supreme court in 1972. But even as they were being written off the books, new, more specific laws that still targeted the same “others” cropped up — stop and frisk, drug possession laws, traffic laws, panhandling, sleeping on benches.”
Yale Law School: "'Forced into Breaking the Law' The Criminalization of Homelessness in Connecticut” (November 2016) - “Laws that restrict behaviors in which people experiencing homelessness must engage to survive, as well as the practices used to enforce these laws, constitute what this report refers to as “making homelessness a crime” or “the criminalization of homelessness.” Under these laws, police officers routinely order people to move. The threat of fines or arrest contributes to a pervasive sense of fear and insecurity. Constantly being told to move from the park, then the plaza, then the coffee shop, Connecticut’s homeless feel they have ‘nowhere to go.’”
Middletown Press: Middletown citizens, nonprofit workers try to remedy loitering, drinking on Main Street –“‘We do try to have people not sit on the ledges. Unfortunately we can’t have them here all the time. We do try to be as consistent as possible — we do the best we can,’ said Middletown police Capt. Sean Moriarty. ‘The loitering ordinance has to do with blocking free passage. We don’t target people who are just standing. We are targeting public drinking, and, if that’s what they’re getting upset about, sorry,’ said Moriarty.”
New Haven Independent: City Homeless Demand Bill Of Rights (December 2018) – “Around 40 homeless people and affordable housing advocates gathered with Verna outside City Hall for an hour-and-a-half protest in support of the Homeless Person’s Bill of Rights and the Resolution to Decriminalize Homelessness. Both proposals would enshrine in city law a homeless person’s rights to enjoy public space and pursue employment, housing, and healthcare opportunities without facing discrimination.”
Chion Wolf and Tucker Ives contributed to this show, which originally aired on February 5, 2019.