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The Criminalization of Homelessness


Posted October 1, 2019
4:18 pm


Being homeless is not a crime. About 3.5 million people in the United States experience homelessness each year. However, many laws make it hard for people without homes to live their lives without being fined or arrested.

In Cleveland, just resting in a public place can land you in jail. If you are found in a public area after closing time, you can be ticketed for trespassing (Code of Ordinances § 559.53). The Mall and Public Square are closed from 10pm to 5am. Sleeping in a park or even relaxing on a park bench for too long can also get you a ticket and a court date (Code of Ordinances § 559.45). If you get a ticket but don’t report to court, the court may issue a warrant for your arrest. The next time you get a ticket, you could end up in jail.

These are just some examples of the many laws that criminalize homelessness. Laws like these close large parts of our city to those who don’t have stable places to go. They make it hard for people without shelter to find safe places to sleep overnight. And they expose the vulnerable to fines they cannot pay, criminal prosecution, and jail at the public’s expense.

The consequences of these kinds of criminal charges can be serious. A criminal record can be a barrier to finding affordable housing, a job, or public assistance. In other words, when you criminalize homelessness, you make it harder to overcome. Laws that unjustly target the homeless should be reconsidered.

If you are experiencing homelessness or would like to learn more about the issues facing Northeast Ohio’s homeless population, contact the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH) or the Cuyahoga County Office of Homeless Services. Both are support groups that help and empower the homeless community in Northeast Ohio.

If you are an advocate who wants to help with legal issues facing the homeless, contact the Cleveland Metro Bar Association’s Homeless Legal Assistance Program. If you are a member of the Homeless Community and would like to share your voice or get more involved with your community, join the Homeless Congress which meets every second Tuesday and Thursday of each month.

You can find more information about issues affecting the homeless at:

This article was written Zora Raglow-DeFranco and it appeared in The Alert: Issue 35, Volume 2.