Friday, July 17, 2009

Anti-homeless laws make some cities "mean"

A national law advocacy group has put a mid-sized Michigan city into the list of the meanest cities for homeless people. The study ranks the top ten cities that are unfriendly to the homeless, Kalamazoo, Michigan joins Los Angeles, Orlando, Atlanta and others.

The law center that complied the reports says some loitering laws Kalamazoo have are anti-homeless. From this story in the Kalamazoo Gazette, reporter Kathy Jessup explains.

The report, issued by the National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, put Kalamazoo in the top 10 alongside larger cities such as San Francisco, Atlanta and Orlando, Fla. Los Angeles was No. 1 in the ranking.

The groups said the rankings are based on factors that include "the number of anti-homeless laws in the city, the enforcement of those laws, the general political climate toward homeless people in the city and the city's history of criminalization measures."

According to the report, Kalamazoo's designation is based largely on a 2007 controversy over a city ordinance prohibiting overnight sleeping in public parks and on rules passed in 2008 for downtown's Kalamazoo Transportation Center that addressed loitering, panhandling and illegal substances.

The report says information on Kalamazoo's ordinances and arrests was provided by Michigan People's Action, formerly known as the Kalamazoo Homeless Action Network.

KHAN has been a longtime advocate for local homeless people and an outspoken critic of Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety enforcement practices. The network participated in 2007 talks that shaped the city's park-use, panhandling and loitering ordinances.
The report says dozens of homeless people were arrested in Kalamazoo in 2007 and 2008 for alleged violations in parks and at the transportation center.

Michael Evans, who was the lead organizer of KHAN and one of the people arrested, said most of the charges were eventually dropped after the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty provided legal assistance.

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