Criminalizing Homelessness Worsens the Situation

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Criminalizing homelessness by harassing, arresting or jailing the poor because they have nowhere else to go but the street should sicken all of us.

If a homeless person has committed a crime then they deserve to be arrested or jailed. However indiscriminately and unrelentingly ticketing them and jailing them hoping that if we make it hard enough on them they will go away and stay away is cruel and heartless.

A homeless person is unable to pay off tickets or fines. Ticketing them for being on the street or loitering makes it harder for them to get off the street. Now they have a criminal record and bad credit. This prevents them from applying for a job, or renting a room.

There needs to be a shift in public attitude toward the homeless. I would like to invite us to start right here in Laguna. If we think about homelessness as an issue where the bottom two rungs of the ladder out of the pit of homelessness are missing then homelessness is a social issue and deserves compassion.

Our alternative sleeping location in the canyon only sleeps 45 on the floor each night. As many as 10 to 20 homeless are turned away before the doors are locked. Those turned away have to sleep somewhere. I have seen them ticketed again and again for camping outside the shelter. Where are they to go? They are homeless.

This week the police made a sweep ticketing those camping outside and hauled some off to jail in handcuffs. This treatment to me is more criminal than being homeless. Every city has homeless. We in Laguna have an opportunity to be an example of doing something better than treating the homeless with cruelty. I sympathize with merchants and businesses, which don’t want the homeless sitting around discouraging tourists and potential customers. Wouldn’t it be better to have people coming to Laguna inspired by the way we treat our homeless. Inspired by the programs we have formed to help them solve the problems that have made them homeless in the first place rather than that we have resorted to jailing and harassing the weakest among us? It dishonors Laguna to treat the homeless this way.

” A society reveals its true values in the way that it treats its weakest members”              Mahatma Ghandi


Jessica deStefano, Laguna Beach

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