The Short-Sightedness of Punishing Poverty

I am feeling rather infuriated by a news story shared in this post by a blog I follow called The 13th Juror.  In a nutshell, the city of Ashland, Oregon is considering what to do about the people experiencing homelessness who spend time in the downtown and have dozens or even hundreds of unpaid tickets around ‘public nuisance’ citations.  Their proposed solution?  To create an exclusion zone where people with unpaid tickets could not enter or face being arrested for criminal trespassing.  The police chief justifies this by saying that this multiple tickets are contributing to long-term homelessness as they are a barrier to employment.

So, guess what the punishment is for criminal trespassing?  Short jail time and a $2,000 fine.  Am I the only one who sees this as incredibly backward?  If we see that ticketing is an impediment to escaping homelessness, then why keep ticketing?  It’s not that people want to be ticketed.  If there were public washrooms downtown they would not urinate outdoors.  If they weren’t addicted they would not be drunk in public on a weekday afternoon.  Enhancing the punishment does absolutely nothing to rectify the situation, it is extremely short-sighted.

However, unfortunately this is too often the rationale of police services that focus on punitive measures and an ‘illegitimate public’, rather than being connected to the broader solutions of social services.  I hope such a measure would never be considered here in London, but I’m nervous about what downtown renewal may be conceptualized as.

3 thoughts on “The Short-Sightedness of Punishing Poverty

  1. Speaking of police officers, and the mentality that dominates various forces, has the LHON thought about doing anything to try and educate or inform cops? I’m generally skeptical about such efforts (cf. “The Story of Jane Doe” and “Our Enemies in Blue” for more on why working with cops tends to be a lost cause) but, who knows, maybe y’all will be able to make a breakthrough. Sometimes my skepticism is misplaced.

    • Thanks Dan. We would love to work more closely with the London Police Department, though I have yet to find the best ‘in’. Our work is all about networking, and having the right people at the right tables that can make things happen. Perhaps I need to be more intentional in seeking out some people, for example one of our agencies has a community advisory board that includes a police officer.

      • In Vancouver there are a couple of ex-police officers who do really great work and whom I respect a great deal. Maybe you should turn to those people first and see what they have to say.

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