Crime and the Homeless

criminal activity homelessCrime and the Homeless
Whenever the topic of homelessness is brought up, invariably the topic of crime is going to be brought up. Whenever the topic of helping the homeless is brought up the topic of crime is brought up. Whenever the topic of shelters, feeding programs, etc is brought up the topic of crime is brought up. Some make the assumption that if someone is homeless they will be a criminal also. Some go as far as saying being homeless is criminal.

Is Being Homeless Criminal?
That is a trick question. A tough question. Is it criminal to not have a place to live. I would hope everyone would say it is not criminal to be homeless. There are no laws against being homeless. All kinds of people can become homeless for a variety of reasons. Maybe some of the reasons for homelessness is based upon wrong behavior or even illegal behavior. But homelessness itself is not illegal.

However, where a person stays may be legal or illegal. A homeless person can certainly be trespassing where they sleep. There are sanctioned and unsanctioned tent encampments. There is blatant ‘in your face’, “I will do what I want to do and sleep where I want’ mindsets of some homeless. There are others that try to be ‘unseen’. Just looking for a safe place to sleep away from the drama. Thus we cannot label all homeless the same. Stereotyping and making all homeless people as bad and evil should be seen as wrong and not tolerated.

Do the Homeless Commit Criminal Activity
ALL? Absolutely not! A majority? Most likely not or there would be much more crime being committed. Is there a segment that do commit crimes? Absolutely!! A very high majority of the addicted homeless commit crimes or will commit crimes if they need money for their addiction. There are also alcoholic homeless that will commit crimes. But not as much as ‘strung out addicts’.

if there is a large homeless population there will be more crime. The statistics/reality bear it out. Its not popular in some groups to acknowledge this, but using illegal drugs in itself is criminal. Drunk in public is against the law in many places. Drinking alcohol in certain locations is illegal. Beyond all that, there are homeless people that commit crimes of shoplifting, theft, burglary, larceny, and acts of violence. Again this is a fact.

However, to insinuate or actually state that most homeless are intentionally doing criminal acts is not based upon reality. There are many homeless individuals and locations where there are homeless individuals where there is not crime being committed, or there is less crime.

Reducing Criminal Activity Among the Homeless
It only makes sense that if the homeless are able to obtain food and clothing, they are less likely to steal to eat and be clothed. Feeding and clothing the homeless is not only a humane thing to do, it does reduce some of the reasons for doing criminal activity.

Providing dental, medical, and mental health services to the homeless will help reduce some crime. These services can help individuals to not just be the homeless, but be the working poor. That is a step in the right direction. A person who gains hope and dignity are less likely to participate in criminal activity.

Providing services for the working poor to get into housing, takes individuals to an entirely new level in life. Again less likely to be involved in criminal activity.

Providing ongoing help to get individuals into treatment will help reduce the criminal activity from drug use.

Holding the homeless to be accountable absolutely must happen if you want to see less criminal activity among the homeless. When they blatantly break the law they need to experience the consequences. Unlawful behavior cannot be tolerated. It is unacceptable. When individuals get drunk in public they need to be cited, and if continue, arrested. The same for public drug use. The same is true for trespassing. When this behavior is ignored, it increases. Burien cannot be a city that tolerates such behavior. Winking at such behavior is not helpful to the addict or the alcoholic. It is actually enabling, Not good for society or the addict. (We will be posting an article on the subject of enabling.)

Does Feeding/Social Service Programs Invite More Criminal Activity?
Yes and no. Whenever there is a group of homeless people made up of addicts, alcoholics, mentally ill, there is the potential for criminal activity. (Take note many who fall into the homeless or working poor category are not addicts, alcoholics, or mentally ill.) However, at the same time, when individuals have basic necessities met they obviously do not have the same need to steal. That is common sense.

When hopeless people are continuously surrounded by hope they become more hopeful. They start to believe they can change. When they start to believe they can change and they are provided resources to help them change, change starts to occur. Most of the time very slow, but for some amazing changes take place. Without the social service programs they would have never changed. So, yes, criminal activity may increase at first, but over time it decreases as lives are changed. Especially if the programs hold their beneficiaries accountable. Certain behavior absolutely cannot be tolerated.

Read our article Enabling and the Homeless.

Final Thought-A Reality Check
Criminal activity by some among the homeless is going to occur no matter what. Guess what. Criminal Activity occurs everyday by those with homes. Those with good paying jobs. Those who are millionaires. Just easier to point out the homeless. Most mail theft is actually done by those who have vehicles. They just don’t get caught because they have vehicles. Employees are stealing from employers all the time. Most drunk drivers are not homeless. Most gang members are not homeless. Most individuals paying for sex with minors are not homeless. Most gun violence is not by the homeless. Seattle most likely has the highest number of baby boomer millionaires in the nation, yet there are ‘retired’ mothers/fathers, grandmas/grandpas on $700 a month social security without homes-that seems criminal. Women coming out of sex trafficking and there is no safe place to live-that seems criminal. The list goes on and on. Does that make crimes by the homeless acceptable? Absolutely not!!! Just brings perspective.

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Our next article will be on the topic of Enabling and the Homeless.

P.S. Here is a testimony of a person who was a major criminal in Burien. Ed was one of the major homeless criminals in Burien. A life can be transformed.

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