As more cities ban homeless camps, advocates cry foul

Tue Dec 23, 2014 7:19pm EST
 
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By Mary Wisniewski

CHICAGO (Reuters) - For Teresa Sigerson, a former waitress who has lived under a Chicago expressway bridge for three years, the camp she shares with eight others provides shelter, companionship and some measure of security.

"There's safety in numbers," said Sigerson, 51, who begs during the day and sleeps between concrete bridge pillars under a highway northwest of downtown. "Everything's convenient here - you're by the stores, the highway."

This year, Sigerson almost lost her space when construction began on tall concrete barriers on the raised slabs where the homeless were make their beds. The project, which was halted this summer, was meant to dislodge the decade-old camp in Chicago's Avondale neighborhood.

Across the United States, local governments are moving to prevent outdoor camping by the homeless, according to advocates for the nation's nearly 600,000 homeless, estimated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Government officials say they are trying to limit outdoor camping for the health and safety of the homeless and other residents. But homeless advocates say the bans are not a solution to homelessness and further stigmatize the poor.

Over a third of U.S. cities impose citywide bans on public camping, a 60 percent increase in such ordinances since 2011, according to a 2014 survey of 187 cities by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty.

More than half the cities surveyed, 57 percent, prohibit camping in certain public places. Such bans have climbed by 16 percent over the past three years, the study found.

Rather than being exposed to bad weather and crime in camps, city officials say, the homeless are better served in city shelters, where they can sleep in beds and eat regular meals.   Continued...

 
Blanca Rodriguez, 46, cleans up her sleeping area under an overpass in Chicago, December 4, 2014. Rodriguez has been living under the overpass for 3 months. REUTERS/Andrew Nelles