Loitering Should Not Be a Crime in a Free Society

Commentary by Leslie Boyd

Loitering.  Trespassing.  Trespassing on a Motor Vehicle.  Open Container.  Disorderly Conduct.  Public Intoxication.  Misconduct on Public Transportation.  Panhandling.  Soliciting Donations.

For the first forty-five years of my life, I hadn’t gotten so much as a parking ticket.  Since February, 2013, however, I’ve been given citations for all of the above listed offenses.  At least once.

Why was I suddenly being ticketed so much?  What happened to my “live inside the law” kind of life?  Have I developed some sort of mental illness?  Am I going through my mid-life crisis?  Maybe.  But the catalyst is this:  I became homeless.

Homelessness is not a crime.  Just about everything you do when you’re homeless is.

If you sit or stand too long in one place, you’re Loitering.  If you sit on the grass at Cleveland State University (across from the Women’s Shelter), you’re trespassing.  If you lean against someone’s car, you’re trespassing on a Motor Vehicle.  (You shouldn’t lean on anyone’s car, true, but this ticket comes with a $5,000 bond.  So, make sure you appear in court!)  If you lose your I.D., you’ve become vagrant.

After a bitter winter, the first warm day (for many of us) calls for a beer or two.  You have nowhere inside to drink, though (because you have no home).  You find yourself at a bus stop, or on a park bench trying to sneak a drink.  You also find yourself with a ticket for Open Container.  Don’t try to talk your way out of it, either.  That will get you a ticket for Public Intoxication (trying to reason with an officer means you must be drunk!) and/or Disorderly Conduct.

I have no income and I often find myself needing bus fare.  (I’ve taken the HealthLine without a bus pass a few times.  That stopped when the RTA “police” gave me the ticket for Misconduct on Public Transportation. I’ve been known to ask people downtown for change for bus fare.  That’s considered Aggressive Panhandling. 

In the past, I’ve seen sign-holders on expressway off-ramps.  I decided to try that.  I’m not approaching people.  Drivers can choose to either help or ignore me.  My sign encourages safe driving and pleasant days.  I’m not hurting anyone, not bothering people.  No crime, right?  Wrong…Soliciting Donations.

I’m just lucky that the officers that write these tickets rarely appear in court.  Because even though homelessness is not a crime, just about everything I’ve done since becoming homeless is.

Copyright Cleveland Street Chronicle April 2016 Cleveland, Ohio