War on the Poor Reaches New Low as Living out of Your Car Becomes Illegal
You might think it criminal that in the world’s richest countries, some people are reduced to living out of their cars in a desperate bid to remain off the streets. But I’m fairly certain you wouldn’t think it was the act of saving oneself from the elements that should be criminalised – your government disagrees.
For months now, Mr. Smith [a former information technology specialist] has feared he might lose his current home, which is stationed on a street near a quiet Palo Alto park. An ordinance passed by Palo Alto last year would punish people cited for living in a vehicle with as much as a $1,000 fine or six months in jail.
“You’re at risk of losing everything,” Mr. Smith said recently. “It’s a weird feeling that until you’ve lived this way, you don’t realize what it’s like.”
For the moment, the city has delayed enforcing the ban while the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals considers a challenge to a similar law in Los Angeles. A decision is expected in the next few months and could affect similar laws in cities including nearby San Jose and Santa Clara.
A war has been mounted on the poor and homeless across the West, as neoliberal governments seek to sweep away the human detritus of capitalism like so much garbage.
More than 50 cities in the US, including New York and Los Angeles have passed laws banning citizens from feeding homeless people – as if these were not human beings, but vermin to be discouraged from our cities. Among those homeless people are 48,000 veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and 1.6 million children.
In the UK, homelessness has risen over 30% under the current government, who continue to cut at the safety nets:
- 4,000 bed spaces have been lost in cuts to housing support services
- In a recent survey by Homeless Link, nearly half of all homeless services reported budget cuts of an average 17%
They have also mimicked US policy and sought to criminalize homeless people:
- In 2012/3, the UK Parliament passed legislation which made it possible for the police to immediately evict anyone found squatting. Since then, there have been 33 arrests, leading to ten convictions and three prison sentences. None of these court cases involved squatters displacing existing tenants, all of the properties involved were completely empty.
- City Centers have taken to employing ‘Ambassadors’ whose job it is to order homeless people out of the town center and call the police if they refuse.
- And London’s Metropolitan Police have plans to outlaw sleeping rough in 6 London boroughs – with those in breach facing risk of arrest, fines or even jail time.
Similar laws have been passed in Hungary, Australia, Japan and across the neoliberal economies of the developed world. While the economies are growing, the number of destitute people is rising, and governments are turning people’s impoverishment into a criminal offense. The so-called war on poverty has become nothing other than a war on the poor.