The Criminalization of Homelessness

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



Criminalization, Anti-homeless policies, Policing, Incarceration, Human rights, Anti-homeless, Panhandling, Colonial America, Poor laws, Tramp rooms, Public opinion, Quality of life, Economy, Skid row, Public safety, Victimization, Police, Jails, Cost, Arrests, Legal, Unconstitutional, Amendments, Unconstitutional, Federal government, Social workers, Service system, Collaboration, Partnerships, Businesses, Shelter, Rights, Incarceration, Public education, Social work

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)



Communities across the USA use anti-homeless policies to reduce the presence of homeless people. Such policies commonly criminalize behaviors associated with homelessness, such as panhandling, loitering, and sleeping outside. These policies are typically justified as a way to improve the quality of life for community members, failing to regard homeless people as part of the community. This chapter has four primary aims. First, it presents an overview of criminalization and the historical origins of anti-homeless policies. Second, it illustrates the influential factors and common arguments used to justify such policies. Third, it demonstrates how criminalization approaches do little to end homelessness or promote housing stability. Finally, it discusses alternatives to criminalization and recommendations for what social workers can do to prevent and end the use of anti-homeless policies.

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Citation / Publisher Attribution

The Criminalization of Homelessness, in H. Larkin, A. Aykanian & C. L. Streeter (Eds.), Homelessness Prevention and Intervention in Social Work, Springer, p. 185-205