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HUD takes action against homelessness criminalization

According to the 2014 Annual Homeless Assesment Report, a troubling 41,000 individuals suffer from homelessness in Florida every single day. In the more recent years, reports of homeless people getting arrested for sleeping in public, using public bathrooms or simply sitting on the side of the road have made headlines all over the country. However, thanks to a new grant, the criminalization of homelessness may soon come to an end. On September 18, 2015, the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) furthered its steps to end the criminalization of the homeless in its $1.9 billion grant program for federal homeless funding. HUD determined in August that criminalizing individuals for being homeless is unconstitutional and violates the Eighth Amendment's protections against cruel and unusual punishment. These grants will be given out in a competitive process, according to thinkprogress.org, where applicants must fill out a questionnaire on how they plan to use the grant money. HUD announced it would be asking applicants to go into detail on how they are working to reduce homelessness criminalization.

Applicants will have to have solid proof that they are working alongside of local policymakers and law enforcement about criminalization policies and implement new community plans to make sure that those who are homeless will not be criminalized. There are several ordinances that criminalize those who are homeless; some ordinances have made it illegal for the homeless to sit down on a sidewalk, ask someone for change, shower or clean up in a public bathroom or sleep in a public area. “Criminalization laws do not address the underlying causes of homelessness, and instead worsen the problem. Indeed, by saddling homeless people with criminal records that might make them ineligible for housing and employment, criminalization laws directly undermine access to affordable housing,” said Maria Foscarinis, Esq., Executive Director of the National Law Center. “Criminalization policies waste taxpayers’ dollars on a strategy that doesn’t work. Criminalization policies have been condemned by the international community in recent human rights reviews, and the continued pursuit of these strategies might harm Florida’s international reputation as a desirable tourist destination.”

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