Though rates of homelessness continue to increase in urban areas across America, a number of cities with large homeless populations are making the eyebrow-raising decision to ban sleeping in cars. Palo Alto and Los Angeles, Calif., are two of these cities.
In Los Angeles, lawyers are currently in federal court defending a law banning sleeping in cars. As Gary Blasi writes in this Guardian article, LA has long been recognized as the unofficial “homeless capital of America”, and has skyrocketing rates of homelessness. From 2011 – 2013, the city’s homeless population increased by 67 percent.
A similar homeless problem is found at the heart of Silicon Valley in Palo Alto, California. There, the city provides just 12 shelter beds for the city’s 157 homeless people. The city passed a law criminalizing sleeping in cars in August. In December, city legislators opted to delay the law’s implementation for a year. Nevertheless, the law is still waiting in the wings to be enacted and carries the support of many prominent members of the community.
Homeless people are already placed in binds every day by legislation criminalizing sleeping in public places. That’s why the luckiest among them — those fortunate enough to still own cars — often sleep in their vehicles. But as cities pass bans on practically every sleeping option available to the homeless, they are sending a clear message to these people: leave or go to jail.
“Homeless people in these cities do have choices: they can choose to sleep in a doorway, on a sidewalk, in a park, under a bridge or overpass, or — if they are relatively lucky — in a car,” Blasi writes. “But these cities have ordinances that make all of those choices a criminal offense. “
It’s bad enough that cities refuse to work on a solution to fix the causes of homelessness. But it’s undeniably wrong to punish homeless people for using the only sleeping options available to them. What else can they do?