NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Life on the Mean Streets

August 7, 2003

Las Vegas, San Francisco, New York City, Los Angeles and Atlanta are the top five "meanest" cities in the United States for poor and homeless people to live in; California is the "meanest" state, followed by Florida as the second "meanest," according to a new report by the National Coalition for the Homeless.

Other cities on the list were Cincinnati, Key West, Austin, Orlando and New Orleans.

In addition to the list of cities, the report also noted the percentage of cities banning activities such as:

  • Obstruction of Sidewalks/Public Places (89.4); Loitering (55.3); Begging (53.2) and Urination/Defecation in Public (53.2).
  • Other forbidden activities include Sleeping in Particular Public Places (51.1); "Aggressive" Panhandling (50.0); Camping (47.9); Sitting/Lying in Public Places (44.7) and Bathing in Public Waters (38.3).

According to Joe Barnett (National Center for Policy Analysis), so-called homeless people are, by the federal government's definition, those whose housing is inadequate, inappropriate or insecure; thus it includes individuals and families living with relatives or friends, in motels, or in apartments on a month-to-month basis.  It includes anyone who sleeps in a car or van at night.  Most homeless people have a place to sleep at night.

"Street people," on the other hand, explains Barnett, are those who live on the street, often by choice, and refuse long-term housing, health, mental health and/or substance abuse assistance.  There are night shelters that offer temporary housing for families, and there are shelters that give street people a meal.

These are two distinct groups -- but the news media and homeless advocates seldom make the distinction, says Barnett.

Source: Report, "As homelessness increases, number of laws targeting homeless people rise," National Coalition for the Homeless, August 5, 2003.


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