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Wednesday, 15 December, 1999, 18:07 GMT
Should it be a crime to be homeless?

New York's mayor is getting tough with the homeless - he's told police to arrest anyone sleeping on the streets and send them to shelters.

Rudolph Giuliani has also said anyone in a hostel must work for their bed - and if they're even an hour late for their job they'll be thrown back on the streets.

Is this hard-line action the right way to deal with the problem, or do you think shelter is a basic human right? Shouldn't those sleeping rough be allowed to decide their own fate? HAVE YOUR SAY

I have mixed views on this. I once saw a programme about two people who were homeless. I always thought that it is terrible being homeless and they must have had an awful previous life before they went on the streets to be on the streets. But these two people on the programme both came from average families, maybe a bit overcrowded but basically these two people could have got jobs and had ok lives.
They both chose to live on the streets. I do feel for the homeless but a lot of homeless people do choose to live on the streets. I think it would be good to chat to them and see what they really want, help them if they want help and then decide what to do. I do not think it is a bad thing getting them to work. I think you only have one life, so make the most of it. Some people do not have much initiative some people need a kick up the backside. I think if you take an interest in the individual then take the next step.
Jane Love, England

If today there are many homeless people, it's because we have kept our eyes closed on the subject for many many years.
Joan Margaret Cafane, France
If today there are many homeless people, it's because we have kept our eyes closed on the subject for many many years. What rights have we got to treat this problem as a crime, we should all gather and sort out this problem once and for all. It is so sad in 1999 there are people with no rooves over their heads.
Joan Margaret Cafane, France

Most people begging on the streets are not begging for a warm cup of tea. The runaways and genuinely homeless through some recent incident or tragedy don't stay on the streets for too long.
My Mother & Father ran Salvation Army Hostels and those who chose to stay out of them were those who had very bad alcoholic or drug addictions and needed to be on the streets trying to get hold of every penny they could get there hands on to supplement their benefits in the UK.
In the winter many come into the hostels but during warm months hostels can be half empty. There are perfectly respectful, clean and well dressed people who live in these hostels but they can't look after themselves because of some slight mental disorder.
Making them work may sound brutal but occupying their time with adequate reward of three meals a day and a warm bed to sleep in is not such a bad idea. I always buy a copy of the Big Issue if I see someone with I.D. in the centre of London because I know they are trying to get out of a trap, which whatever you do some will always fall into.
Dave, UK

You're homeless, you're hungry, you're cold, and you're tired. It's dark and it's raining. What do you do? Go and look for a job? Of course not, You beg for money for a warming cup of tea, you find the best possible shelter you can find, maybe a doorway protecting you from the bitter wind. Perhaps tomorrow you can start to sort your life out, its throughly miserable on the streets, trouble is tomorrow will be cold, you're cold, you're hungry' you're tired, from the lack of sleep and warmth and food.............
G Levett, UK

Homeless people are experiencing bitter cold, hardship, hunger and rough treatment, while we see some other individuals have more wealth and luxury than they could ever consume in a lifetime; think about the reality of that.
Peter Benjamin, England
The main aim of this policy seems to be to clean up the streets rather than to help homeless people. It is disgraceful to criminalise people for this. They have a right to choose their own lifestyle. Unless we are prepared to devote time, money and effort to providing homeless people, who often have multiple problems, then we cannot blame them for preferring the streets to the squalid shelters which we offer them.
Barry Tregear, England

Being poor is not a crime, but behaviour that violates general civility should not be tolerated. Most street people are mentally ill or drug dependent and need medical help. Help exists, but society is not allowed to force treatment. I have always supported the old notion of "Poor Farms" for those who are unable to support themselves. Get these poor souls out of the city and into a less threatening community where their lives can be made better.
Richard, USA

Bring back the workhouses and the poorhouses. People shouldn't be harassed for money all the time in this day and age. The beggars should be kept off the streets and put in secure housing away from the rest of society.
Ben Jewitt, USA
If society deems it a crime to be homeless, than a citizen should have an unconditional right to shelter. Laws such as those introduced by Mayor Giuliani are not aimed at eradicating homelessness, rather it is part of an increasingly common Republican strategy of attacking the powerless for political gain.
Keith Cuiper, USA

People in need should be given help. However, the help should be specific to encourage self-reliance and not dependency. Beggars however do pose a social problem and chastise people who are probably already paying high taxes and supporting the welfare state. Everything should be done to limit their threatening activities on streets that are maintained by the taxpayer. This means removing them from society until they comply.
Bob, UK

Nice to see so many caring people in our society. I know what we should do how about sending all the poor and homeless to a work camp. That way we do not even have to see these people as they will be looked after by our Nazi brothers.
Jason, US from the UK

Homeless people are dreadful and should not be allowed. We need to have tough laws that stop begging and prevent homeless or low paid women having children that they present in front of people and beg for cash.
Rob, UK
By removing these people from the street, this has the effect of making the streets cleaner, safer and more pleasant. The truly needy can be separated from the professional beggars. The needy can then be helped, given shelter, food, employment and brought back into society. The professional can be punished! Workhouses are not the answer, useful employment and self respect is.
Andy Trigg, England

If homeless people want to live on the streets, then let them. At least then they may not be depriving someone of a home who actually wants and needs it.
Daniel Rogers, Wales
The policy seems to be 'force the destitute who want a roof over their heads to work. Those who fail to comply are "criminalised"'. Here in the UK at least there is a distinct 'Catch 22'. You don't get job if you do not have an address and you do not get a "home" unless you have a job. I ask, how exactly is criminalising the destitute going to enable them to break this cycle of poverty.

I believe you cannot really arrest a person for being homeless. As far as I know being homeless is not a crime. If they are criminals then by all means they need to be put away. I also believe that these people need to be taken off the streets in any case. They often freeze and die in winter...
Vivien Cooksley, Cyprus-Austria

Please take the beggars, who may or may not be homeless, off the streets. Shelter is a basic requirement, but not one that should be met, without obligation, by society.
John Atkins, Singapore

It is not a crime to be homeless. Many of our nations homeless have a mental or emotional disorder. Before Presidents Johnson and Reagan, our government took care of these people. We can put billions of government dollars into treating people with cancer, diabetes, hypertension, etc., but so little is spent on our addicted brothers and sisters. Our homeless problem is indeed criminal, but it is our government that is the offender, not the people who cannot take care of themselves.
Cheryl Maloney, USA

Mayor Giuliani never said to arrest anyone found sleeping on the streets - unless they were committing a crime or were wanted for previous offences. The facts are often ignored when the big story seems irresistible.
Jim, USA
New York's Mayor Giuliani never said to arrest anyone found sleeping on the streets - unless they were committing a crime or were wanted for previous offences. The facts are often ignored when the big story seems irresistible. The Mayor is acting within state law, but that fact is largely ignored. Shelter may be a basic human right as claimed by other contributors, but only if the one seeking shelter actively pursues it. It isn't the responsibility of society in general to round up the derelicts and see to them.
Jim, USA

Homelessness is not a crime. The mayor has got the right idea, get help for those that need it, force those that can work, work, and to clean up the streets of his city. Compassion is not measured by giving a homeless person a dollar, rather it is by making that person earn that dollar.
Robert, USA

I don't think homelessness should be a crime but the negative attitude of some of these unfortunates certainly should be. In this life none of us can expect any favours. All we have is our dignity and, I believe, an in-built will to survive against all the odds. Some homeless people do not appear to even want to try and elevate themselves. It may well be a symptom of society but the cure lies elsewhere.
David Green, England

It's easy to say that people should work and pay for their own homes, but many jobs are so low paid that they would not pay for even the most basic accommodation. We should not condemn people for sleeping on the streets when they could not afford acceptable accommodation, even if they did work. Our competitive society creates winners and losers; the winners have enough rewards already without needing to tell everyone else how they should live.
Terry Clark, UK

Our competitive society creates winners and losers; the winners have enough rewards already without needing to tell everyone else how they should live.
Terry Clark, UK
I think it is ridiculous to assert that homelessness be made a crime, unless it be a crime against those that are homeless. No one in their right mind would choose to live in the cold and dirt of your average city street. Therefore, those that do choose to live that way need help, either to diagnose and treat their illness, or to direct them to agencies which can begin to give them a home, a job and some self-respect.
Ann M. Hughes, Japan

Approximately (no one knows exactly) 80% of the homeless in New York are mentally ill, alcoholic, drug addicts, and some are even children. Giuliani's prescription is an election manoeuvre, aiming to gather votes, not to do anything constructive.
Richard, US

Bring back the Poor Law I say and fund it properly.
Derek Smith, England

THANK YOU, Mayor Gulliani. People must be held accountable for their actions. Any of us could be homeless but choose not to be. I work very hard to ensure I have a home. Those that are medically or mentally ill should be cared for. Criminals should be put in jail. The rest should go to work like the rest of us. People must accept responsibility for their own lives
Melanie, USA

Anyone could find a job and a room to stay if he or she really wanted to.
Steven Roelofs, USA
I don't know about NYC, but here in Chicago there are "help wanted" signs in practically every restaurant and store window and the papers are filled with jobs that require few skills. It seems to me that most anyone could find a job and a room to stay if he or she really wanted to. We have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the world.
New immigrants who speak little or no English find jobs. Many work two or three jobs so they can give their children a better education and brighter future. I have no sympathy for what I see as mostly native born homeless people when others who left everything behind in places like El Salvador, Somalia and Laos make it. People from the third world endure hardship. Native born Americans -- except for the mentally ill -- have no excuse. They are just lazy.
Steven Roelofs, USA

Before I left California I was homeless. I slept in my car or in my office or with my girlfriend. I just didn't feel like having a home. If NYC wants to give people a place to sleep, fine. Since when is being poor illegal? I'm glad I'm no longer in America. Thais are much more tolerant.
Andy Canfield, Thailand

Let's get the facts straight. Street people are a danger to themselves and others. By law, anyone has the right to shelter in NYC. No one is being arrested unless they have committed actual crimes. Women with children are not forced to work to remain in shelters. Only able bodied childless adults are required to find work after 30 days in a shelter. They all receive free health care, free counselling, free job training, and free child care, if needed. If after 30 days work isn't found, they are offered city jobs. No one is ever thrown back on the streets. Where did you get your information? From Hillary Clinton?
Michael Katter, USA

There is nothing worse than having people pester you for money when down town. Why should I give them money? Have they earned it like I have ? Granted, there are some people who perhaps are generally in a bad way through no fault of their own, but the majority is drug users or travellers who should stop messing about and sort their lives out!! It's their choice to use drugs or their choice to bum around - it is my choice to not give them money for doing nothing. I will help anybody who is willing to at least try and help themselves, but most of these people just can't be bothered!
Rob Beavan, UK

As a person who lives in New York City and as a a medical student who rotates through some of New York's inner city hospitals that serve the poor and many homeless, I have a unique perspective on the issue being debated. It should be emphasized that there are many homeless people in New York City with criminal records. There are many homeless people in New York City who are mentally disturbed who have symtpoms of psychoses, hallucinations, personality disorders that predispose to violence, just to name a few. These individuals should be found and removed from the streets. If they are guilty of criminal behavior they should be jailed. If they are mentally disturbed and are a danger to themselves or others they have to be removed from the streets, treated, and observed. Mayor Guiliani is acting appropiately by jailing criminals and he is acting compassionately by finding treatmentfor the mentally ill. In the process, he is making New York City safer for the rest of us. ! ! The harsh criticisms and personal attacks made against Mayor Guiliani are unjustified
Max, USA

Judging by the comments listed here, a frightening number of people believe that homeless people should be either locked up in prison or forced to endure inhumane conditions in the workhouse. The subtext, of course, is 'out of sight, out of mind.' Neither of these draconian policies face up to the reasons why homelessness exists. It is a symptom of an increasingly divided society in which the rich get filthy rich and the poor are an embarassment. If the 'hardliners' really want to see clean streets, they should give some money to Shelter or perhaps offer a homeless person a job and a roof over their heads to get them back on their feet. Homelessness is everyone's problem and don't forget, 'it could be you'.

Rudolph Giuliani is an imbecile. He has proved it many times with his foolish policies. He has no understanding of the things he governs and only has an idiotic, hard line set of outdated morals to guide his judgement. These people are not criminals and they should be free to sleep where they please, things are hard enough for them already. It is not fair or rational to make sweeping statements about what these people go through unless you have been in such a situation. These people need help and the only fair way to do it is by speaking to them and finding out how they can be helped on a case by case basis.

I am in favor of getting the homeless off the street. The streets are paid for by taxpayers they are not for any particular citizen to use for their private use as a bedroom. I think it is generous that alternate shelter is being provided for these people. These street people create a health problem that cannot be ignored they deficate and urinate in inappropriate places, and create serious problems for local business, for hardworking people that are trying to make a living. I have been homeless and I know that there are a lot of ways out if you want out.
David Martin, USA

We should bring back workhouses and give anyone who wants a bed and shelter a room in return for labour.
Philip Levy, UK
My girlfriend's Czech and she tells me that back home they don't really have a homeless problem because at -20 degrees most people would rather work and afford shelter than freeze. Basically we should bring back workhouses and give anyone who wants a bed and shelter a room in return for labour. There ARE NO EXCUSES.
Philip Levy, UK

The next thing we'll know is that Workhouses will be re introduced. Which way is society meant to be going? Backwards or forwards?
Jason Conway, UK

I am sick of walking in central London because of hassles from homeless people begging. They are in every tube station and street corner. And they swear and even spit at those who ignore them or don't give them money. Some are obviously old and sick or suffering from severe mental problems, but most of the violent ones I've encountered are young, in their early twenties, and appear perfectly healthy.
Maybe they have run away from difficult and abusive situations at home, but nothing gives them the right to treat strangers in such a way. I have always lived in London and I hate to see it being ruined in the eyes of Londoners and tourists by these people.
Sam Rees, UK

Sounds like a circle to me. Arrest - send to shelter - throw back on the streets.
David Pavitt, USA
Sounds like a circle to me. Arrest - send to shelter - throw back on the streets. What next? I've been in New York City many times. There are many reasons why people stay on the street. How can that be a criminal act? Give them the option to go to shelters but don't try to force them.
David Pavitt, USA

As someone who almost ended up on the streets at the age of 16, because I mentally desperate, and seeking a way out of society that was being selfish and self-conceited, I find Giuliani's hard line actions unbelievable - can I suggest that he tries being mentally and physically abused for weeks on end with no one to turn to, and then try and find a way out.
Many people who are abused one way or the other do end up on the streets. But try treating the cause of the homelessness first...Mr Giuliani Sir, you might be quite surprised.
Mark, UK

It is wrong to take away people's freedom just because they are homeless or living in poverty. But what can you do when these people refuse to take work that the city finds for them? They are a drain on public funds and a source of street crime and disturb many city centres. What do you do when people won't let you help them and refuse to help themselves? Forcing them into shelters takes away their choice, but perhaps what they need should be more important than what they want.
Ansa Piacard, Sweden

I became homeless when the drug addict I shared a place with burnt it down. Until I found somewhere else to live I had nothing but hassle from the police. Yet there were people being murdered, rape and burgled within miles. All I was trying to do was get some rest out of the rain and cold.
Martin, UK

Homeless people are layabouts who scare away tourists from our cities by aggressive begging.
Bill, England
Homeless people are layabouts who scare away tourists from our cities by aggressive begging and commit a whole bunch of criminal acts from robbery to prostitution, mostly to finance their drug habits. They can't be bothered to get off their stinking sleeping bags and work themselves out of their situation like decent people. I believe the new Mayor of London's first task should be to round up these parasites and lock them up out of sight of law abiding members of society.
Bill, England

As you can earn 200 a day from begging on the streets of London, who's going to give that up easily? There is even one 'homeless' who charges the others for sitting on the steps of a famous central London church. People should be aware that while some definitely are, not all cases of 'homelessness' are genuine. It is dealing with these people which is the problem.
Lisa, UK

SHELTER IS A BASIC HUMAN RIGHT. It is NOT the right of a group of overpaid, unqualified politicians who have NEVER even been homeless let alone experienced "real" life to decide the fate of others.
Please help these people; don't treat them as criminals. They are trying to survive in a world that really does not give a damn. Surely WE should be admiring them for their courage and strength to carry on in such a selfish uncaring world. And WE should be the ones to help them find shelter only if they want it.
Debbi Richards, UK

Homeless people are seen as soft targets by the police as they are an easy crime to deal with, with no actual victims, and therefore less administrative work. Unless they are actually committing a crime they should be left alone.
Nancy, UK

Yes, shelter is a basic human right, but rights also come with obligations.
Joseph Rees, UK
Yes, shelter is a basic human right, but rights also come with obligations. Work is the basic obligation and responsibility of every man and woman so that they may be a benefit to their society rather than a burden.
Joseph Rees, UK

I have been homeless several times in my life, and all I seemed to get was problems from the police. This is not the way to go.
Mark Verth, UK

Guiliani is the first mayor who has had the guts to take an unpopular stand against a major problem in his city. There comes a point when civil liberties are taken too far. Really, how important are the personal freedoms of the homeless to sleep where they want? Is it more important than the damage they do to the city and to themselves?
Simone Harpur, France

Why single out this one behaviour? Surely someone who damages their own health by smoking is a more appropriate target for punishment than someone who is sleeping in the streets?
Ian Lowe, UK

There are many different problems that cause homelessness. Such a hard-line approach doesn't take these into account (i.e. if you're homeless, it must be because you're lazy). I would like to see more support for the homeless, but they should not be arrested just for not having anywhere to live.
This is coming from someone who for the last 3 years lived in a town where people are pestered every few minutes for "some spare change". More care is needed for these most vulnerable people of society.
Seb, UK

The dozy idiots are creating a vicious circle - get plucked off the streets and put into a hostel, and then get thrown off the hostel onto the streets if you're even a few minutes late for work. This is going to cause more problems than it will solve - they need to find a much more constructive solution than this.
Simon Kitson, England

Lots of people are homeless through no fault of their own and they should be treated with compassion, not forced into anything.
Sheila, UK
Lots of people are homeless through no fault of their own and they should be treated with compassion, not forced into anything. They have just as much right to personal liberty as anyone else. How can it possibly be a crime to lose your home and job?
Sheila, UK

No-one is saying the homeless shouldn't be helped. Of course they need help. But they cannot expect the City to pay for them indefinitely without doing something to help themselves. I am only talking here about able-bodied adults who refuse to work on the City's work/food programs and other programs designed to help them get back into mainstream society, instead choosing a life of crime to pay for needs.
Rob Anderson, US

Shelter is definitely not a basic right. It is up to the individual to take the opportunities given to them to make a success of their lives. Although there are many factors to people sleeping rough the over-riding one (excluding children), is that instead of being motivated to make something of their lives they have been too happy to cruise and now they expect handouts from everybody else for the state of their situation. No Tax money on the homeless. Make them work instead of downing the Tennents Super at 9am!
Alan, UK

The homeless are a major source of crime, and damage the image and reputation of many cities like New York and London. Of course it is not a crime to be homeless because of mental illness, business failure, running away from abuse, and a host of other reasons. But most homeless people must resort to crime on some level to survive, and it is this problem which has to be removed by hard-line policies.
Luke Godard, UK

Giving them shelter and getting them back to work will not only make them less susceptible to violence and disease but will give them back their dignity.
Melody Forrest, England
The NYPD is there to serve and protect the citizenry, who cannot be properly protected if sleeping on the street. The life of a hobo isn't something to which anyone aspires but something that results from mishaps in life. Giving them spare change and a bowl of soup will keep them on the street but giving them shelter and getting them back to work will not only make them less susceptible to violence and disease but will give them back their dignity.
Melody Forrest, England

I can't believe any one could come up with anything so brutal. Society has structured itself to allow people to fall to this level and then to ignore them and deny them the means to help themselves - and yet there is an assumption that the homeless have CHOSEN to be so.
As with every imbued social problem, a well-structured, intelligently thought out, sensitive and long-term solution is needed, not as a quick fix vote-winning scheme, but as a means to stop the problem continuing and to help the homeless to help themselves.
Wendy, UK

I think I must have missed something here. Arrest someone for sleeping on the street, then move him or her to a shelter, then throw them back on the street if they don't work? Well I suppose it'll create some jobs.
Colin, The Netherlands

This is absolutely the wrong way to deal with this problem. Nobody sleeps on the streets because its fun, they all - ALL - have suffered and continue to suffer. By far the best way to tackle this problem is to stop it happening in the first place. This would require a re-invention of British society as we know it, towards real family values, or just the election propaganda of all British political parties.
David Watkins, England

No. Let's make being a politician dreaming up such ridiculous ideas a capital offence.
Gerry, Scotland
Since New Labour always looks across the pond for answers to society's ills this surely is the way to go. Never mind giving the homeless hot soup and some human kindness, arrest the lot and throw away the keys. Another great idea brought to you by "NewPolitics-R-US". One small problem though wasn't Joseph and Mary homeless when Jesus was born?
Malcolm McCandless, Scotland

Frankly I don't see homelessness as an 'alternative' lifestyle that needs my support and understanding. I applaud Giuliani's stance. That said I wonder how many of these homeless people are actually people with mental illness that have slipped through the net of our so called caring in the community services?
Heidi McCaughey, UK

It is the politicians whose decisions caused people to become homeless and subsequent politicians whose decisions allow society to tolerate homelessness that should be locked up. Perpetuating a society where homelessness in endemic is the real crime.
NM, Scotland

My understanding is that many homeless people are children who have run away from violent homes. The idea that such people should be treated as criminals is lunatic. Instead, these people should be given more help to rebuild their lives.
Tony Jones, UK

These people are not criminals but victims of the savagery that is late 20th century capitalism
Aiden Greene, UK
Homelessness itself should not be a crime. But begging on the streets should be. We should be in a position to provide hostel accommodation for all - if people choose not to use it that is up to them, but they should not then be allowed to beg to support themselves.
Peter, UK

Giuliani's latest move is entirely consistent with his "creeping fascism" style of clamping down on the poor and disadvantaged. It is based on the highly questionable assumption that if you are homeless it is your own fault. Many homeless people in NYC are working. Many others are mentally ill. It is a measure of the Anglo-Saxon callous hatred of the poor that Giuliani continues to get some popular support.
Graham Howard, Brit expat living in USA

If they are being given a warm place to sleep, food to eat and something to bring them back into the rest of the world then it has to be a good thing.
Paul Charters, England

This is a very worrying idea. Do we really want to go back to the workhouses and ghettos of the past?
Kaye E, UK

It's a start. I don't know how other people feel, but I am getting really fed up with people who beg for money. If taking them of the streets can help people financially and give them a sense of usefulness then how can that be a bad thing?
Emma, England

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See also:
13 Dec 99 |  UK
Arresting idea for the homeless
13 Dec 99 |  UK
Homeless 'abused by public'

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