New Article: “Punishing the Poorest: How the Criminalization of Homelessness Perpetuates Poverty in San Francisco”

New Article: Chris Herring & Dilara Yarbrough, Punishing the Poorest: How the Criminalization of Homelessness Perpetuates Poverty in San Francisco, SSRN June 2015.  Abstract below:

This report details the effects of criminalization on the homeless residents of San Francisco. Since 1981, San Francisco has passed more local measures to criminalize sleeping, sitting, or panhandling in public spaces than any other city in the state of California. During this same period, the United States has experienced the greatest expansion of its jail and prison system under any democracy in history. This expansion has primarily affected the poorest members of this society. This report documents and analyzes the impacts of the rising tide of anti-homeless laws in our era of mass incarceration on those experiencing homelessness in San Francisco.

This portrait of the impact of criminalization on homelessness in San Francisco is based on a citywide survey of 351 homeless individuals and 43 in-depth interviews carried out by volunteers at the Coalition on Homelessness and supervised by researchers at the UC Berkeley Center on Human Rights. It also analyzes data on policy, citations, and arrests received from the San Francisco Police Department, the Sheriff ’s Office, the Human Services Agency, and the Recreation and Park Department. The report provides an in-depth analysis of each step in the criminalization of homelessness — from interactions with law enforcement, to the issuance and processing of citations, to incarceration and release. The study makes evident how criminalization not only fails to reduce homelessness in public space, but also perpetuates homelessness, racial and gender inequality, and poverty even once one has exited homelessness.

The aim of this study is to provide sound empirical data on the impacts of the criminalization of homelessness in San Francisco, while also giving voice to the experiences of those whose housing status results in their regularly being processed through the city’s criminal justice system. Our hope is that these findings will inform public discussions and provide the basis for thoughtful policy approaches to these issues.

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