Should U.S. Cities Provide Places Where the Homeless Can Camp Legally?

A hotly debated issue in a good many cities around the country, including in Southern California, is whether U.S. cities should provide places where homeless people can camp legally. In the final analysis, in order to come to a fair answer to this question, you need to consider the pros and cons underpinning the larger debate over cities providing lawful camping spaces for homeless people.

Arguments Supporting Legal Camping Places for Homeless

Controls the Indiscriminate Spread of Homeless Encampments

On the positive side of the debate over lawful camping areas for homeless people, taking this approach tends to reign in the indiscriminate spread of homeless encampments in a community. In this day and age, particularly in Southern California, there has been a significant spread of homeless encampments beyond the limited areas where the historically have cropped up. In fact, at this juncture in time, there really seems to be no locale in Southern California that is immune from the phenomena of homeless encampments.

Protects Parks and Other Greenspaces from Improper Use

Time and again, when people set up homeless encampments in a more haphazard fashion, they oftentimes end up in parks and other greenspaces. When these are not lawfully designated areas to camp, what can prove to significant damage ends up being done to a particular space. For example, camping in a public park will causing significant damage to the grass and other ground covering. In addition, when homeless people establish an encampment in a park or other greenspaces, the end result is to all but prevent other members of the community from utilizing these spaces. Establishing a lawful camping space for homeless people lessens the changes that this type of abuse or damage to other public spaces will occur.

Lessen the Spread of Disease

If a designated, lawful camping area for homeless people is created by a city, and if it includes accoutrements like proper toilet facilities, there can be a positive development as it relates to disease. A lawful camping area, equipped with toilet facilities and sinks, can reduce the spread of disease that otherwise occurs in venues like homeless encampments. With this in mind, for the spread of disease to be minimized, there is a presumption that the city will make at least some investment regarding basic toilet and washing facilities.

Arguments Against Legal Camping Places for Homeless

Discourage Homeless People from Seeking Certain Services

By the very nature of homeless people camping, individuals that follow this course do not access services and resources that are available through certain homeless shelters.  For example, by taking advantage of traditional homeless shelters, a homeless individual or family is available to access different types of services. This include resources that are designed to provide homeless individuals with more long-term solution designed to get them out of their homeless condition.

Increases the Crime Rate in a Particular Area

Although some homeless advocates take issue with this contention, research and analysis of date supports the contention that the crime rate rises where there are higher concentrations of homeless people. This is one of the reasons why some members of the general public take a firm stand against homeless encampments in their neighborhoods. By definition, a designated camping zones for homeless people will result in higher concentrations of homeless people. When this occurs, the crime rate can be expected to jump. Examples of the types of crimes that can be expected to rise around a larger camping area designated for homeless people include:

  • Theft
  • Drug crimes (use and sales)
  • Assaults
  • More minor offenses (trespassing, public intoxication)

Encourage the Spread of Disease

A designated camping area for homeless people can result in the spread of disease. If a camping area develops into something akin to a large homeless encampment, there may be a lack of suitable toilet and similar facilities. If that occurs, a consequence can be the spread of disease.

When larger numbers of people congregate and lack proper facilities, they are left to urinate and defecate on the ground. As alarming as that may sound, that can be a stark reality of the situation. When this occurs, dangerous pathogens are present. These biohazards can include dangerous bacteria and viruses that can result in serious and even fatal diseases.

Summary

In the final analysis, the arguments on the pro and con side of cities providing homeless camps are strong. This reality underscores the reason why communities oftentimes struggle trying to ascertain what is the best course to take when it comes to addressing the issue of homelessness.

Open dialogue among primary stakeholders represent the best way to ascertain whether a particular community should provide specific spaces where homeless people can camp lawfully. What works for one city may not be appropriate for another.