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Ethics of Homelessness

Ethics of Homelessness

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Published by: atoney7049 on Mar 17, 2010
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 Andrew ToneyChristian Ethics-SansomFinal Research PaperThe Ethics of Homelessness Criminalization LawsI. Thesis
My thesis is that the criminalization of homelessness by law is unethical, because it violates the rights and importance of the individual and undermines the idea of being aChristian neighbor. Although the criminalization of homelessness may allow for animproved public image and the removal of undesirables, it is antithetical toChristianity in that it fails to address the true needs of a population.In order to support my thesis, I argue that homeless individuals are valuable citizensand have natural rights to a better quality of life, which cannot be interfered with. Iargue this point on the basis of Christian neighboring, displayed in the parable of theGood Samaritan.
II. Sources A.
 
M
itchell, Don. "The Annihilation of Space by Law: The Roots and Implicationsof Anti-Homeless Laws in the United States."
 Antipode
29, no. 3 (1997): 303-335.
 The authors thesis boldly addresses the numerous anti-homeless laws across theUnited States, claiming that by redefining what is acceptable behavior in publicspace, by in effect annihilating the spaces in which the homeless
must 
live, theselaws seek simply to annihilate the homeless people themselves (p. 305). Accordingto Mitchell, the primary strategy of most modern-day vagrancy laws is to outlawhomeless activity in public areas, thereby eliminating space across themetropolitan area. In this model, Mitchell claims, civic authority continues todecrease the living space of the homeless until they essentially have no place left wherein to continue to eke out an existence.Mitchell, a professor at University of Colorado, begins his argument by describingthe foundational attitude that serves as the motivating force behind such laws. Thedemon, according to Mitchell, is the concept of globalization, which emphasizes theacquisition of capital and the maintenance of appearance above all things (p. 304).Globalization also gives community leaders the authority to create laws that eliminate the activities of the homeless and thereby eliminate the freedoms of thehomeless.
 
2
 The author then cites numerous examples of unjust laws targeted specifically at homeless people in order to illustrate his point that the intent [of such laws] isclear: to control behavior and space such that homeless people simply cannot dowhat they must do in order to survive without breaking laws (p. 307). Mitchellcites numerous laws across varied U.S. municipalities that condemn public behaviorcommon to most homeless people, like panhandling, begging, sleeping in public,lying on the sidewalk, defecating in public, and loitering. While most cities justifysuch laws by offering a crime prevention standpoint, Mitchell comments that,ironically, anti-homeless legislation is not about crime prevention; more likely it isabout 
cri
me
inv 
e
n
ion
 (p. 307).This is the case, according to Mitchell, because anti-homeless legislation takes what most homeless people must do
o
su
rviv 
e
and turnsit into a crime, severely punishable in many situations. Mitchell even makes theargument that most of these actions are fundamental instincts of survival commonto all people, even those who do not live on the streets. The main aspect that seemsto make such actions worthy of criminalization is
whe
e
they are done. Becausehomeless people simply have no other place where they can carry out suchactivities, they are forced to carry them out in public, which is deemed not survival,but criminal action. Mitchell then points out the logic that drives the criminalizationof homelessness: though these people have nowhere left to go, their homelessness isseen as voluntary. The logic of the oppressor claims that such people fail to takeadvantage of all the opportunities that society offers, and, therefore, punishment iscompletely necessary (p. 319).Mitchell also points out another influential point of motivation for laws that discriminate against the homeless: maintenance of the public image. According toMitchell, the majority of urban redevelopment legislation that alienates thehomeless is primarily motivated by the concern that the pretty picture remainparamount (p. 3
2
3). In response to a growing number of homeless in the nationsurban centers, many city governments have privatized public space in order toforsake the homeless in favor of the privileged of society.Many of these initiativesplace more emphasis on public aesthetics than on the worth of the individual. Thus,as Mitchell concludes, by seeking to eliminate the ugly public spaces of acommunity, civic authority seeks to eliminate the very people who are forced to livein these spaces; furthermore, this action is completely motivated by a sense of purefear and misunderstanding.
B
.
 
Ellickson, Robert C. "Controlling chronic misconduct in city spaces: Of panhandlers, skid rows, and public-space zoning ."
Th
e Yale Law Journal 
105,no. 5 (1996): 1165-1194.
Ellicksons thesis is that public spaces create opportunities for misuse andnuisance by the destitute, and therefore must be maintained strictly. Ellicksondescribes public spaces as prime breeding grounds for thechronic publicnuisances of the homeless, which undermines the productivity of the space and its
 
3use by the general public. According to the author, the sanctity of public spacesmust be maintained by strict force in order to protect the right of the citizen to usesuch spaces.Ellickson begins his argument by emphasizing thatrules of proper street behaviorare not an impediment to freedom, but a foundation of it (pg. 1169).According toEllickson, imposing regulation of public space, specifically in regard toundesirables, allows the majority of citizens the freedom to utilize a public space.Ellickson argues that it only takes a small amount of disorder to create an entireatmosphere of disorder. In his words, A few street peopledisproportionately createan ambience of urban disorder (pg. 1170). Ellickson also demonstrates, throughvarious examples, how small acts of public nuisance build up this negative ambienceover time, eventually leading to the disintegration of the public space.Next, in examining possible counterarguments to his policy of strict enforcement,Ellickson discounts the idea of distributive justice in regard to homelessstreetpeople.He argues that to favor the poorest may disadvantage the poor,claiming that to allow the poorest of society to live in the streets violates the rightsof the slightly better off homeowners in the urban neighborhoods they typicallyfrequent (pg. 1175). Ellickson suggests that the redistribution of wealth is not anissue to be brought into the legal spectrumit is better reserved for tax reform andgovernment policy debates.In his discussion of strict enforcement against chronic public nuisances,Ellickson advocates the informal action of citizens and pedestrians over the formalauthority of the police. In Ellicksons view, citizens have the greatest power toeliminate the problem of street people, primarily by individual acts of defense. Forexample, a pedestrian can simply refuse to provide a beggar with money, whichwould, in practice, discourage panhandling by making it fruitless (pg. 1177).Ellickson also points out that the typical pedestrian response perpetuates the cycleof chronic nuisance. The average pedestrian is highly unlikely to respond to publicnuisance such as panhandling or begging; more than likely, they will simply ignorethe offender or fail to condemn their actions. According to Ellickson, if individualsrespond with a common attitude of intolerance, then the acts of chronic publicnuisance will wane and the public image will improve. If the police are forced toformally enforce correct social behavior, the cycle will only be worsened by thebroken window effect. If the public sees that an area has reached a point of irritation necessitating police intervention, then that areas image declines muchmore rapidly.Finally, Ellickson also takes into account the federal constitutional rights of chronicpublic misbehavers, pointing out the ambiguities of trying to decide what isconstitutional in public policy regarding the homeless. According to Ellickson, manyconstitutionality arguments stand in the way of enforcing laws regarding homelesspeople. For example, one common argument is that prohibiting the homeless from

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