The authors of Homes Not Handcuffs agree. “Instead of criminalizing homelessness, local governments, business groups, and law enforcement officials should work with homeless people, providers, and advocates for solutions to prevent and end homelessness. Cities should dedicate more resources to creating more affordable housing, permanent supportive housing, emergency shelters, and homeless services in general,” the report recommends. “To address street homelessness, cities should adopt or dedicate more resources to outreach programs, emergency shelter, and permanent supportive housing.”

For Joel John Roberts, the reality he sees in cities across America represents a problem for the homeless population “People are tired of compassion,” he says. “Irritation has trumped tolerance for those who are homeless.” He believes it's a failure to think long-term about the problem. “Enforcing anti-homeless ordinances is more politically expedient than actually addressing the root causes and long-term solutions to homelessness,” he says.

But not every state is trending toward an inhospitable response to its street-bound citizens. A few days ago the governor of Rhode Island signed on to the state's Homeless Bill of Rights, a piece of legislation designed to welcome and protect homeless individuals by protecting their rights.

"I think we've set the bar high in the U.S. for homeless people, and I'm very proud of that," said one Senate sponsor of the bill, Sen. John Tassoni. The bill protects a homeless individual's “reasonable expectation of privacy,” and prohibits discrimination against those living on the streets.

Neil Donovan is the executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless. He applauds the passage of the bill. "It's important as a standalone piece of legislation but also as it's juxtaposed with other communities that are in the process of criminalizing homelessness," he says.

Groups and individuals working on behalf of the homeless might have an easier time of it in Rhode Island than many other states. In Houston, Texas, the act of feeding five or more homeless people in public without written permission from the city is now punishable as a misdemeanor, carrying a fine of $500. But churches, individuals, and faith-based groups are protesting the new restriction. Manual Sanchez, a volunteer with Simple Feast, a church ministry, summed up his group's feelings on the subject. "We have a huge problem asking the city for permission to feed the poor,” he said.

Kristin Wright is a contributing writer at, where she covers topics related to human rights, international travel, social justice, women's issues, religious freedom and refugee resettlement. For further articles, visit her website at Kristin can be contacted at

Publication date: June 27, 2012