Panhandlers, Squatters, and Campers Attacked by Local Governments

Compiled from news stories from around the country, the American Homeless on-line service, and other street newspapers.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

The 2 year old ordinance banning scavengers from searching through trash for food and recyclables was approved as a permanent part of the Milwaukee law. In late 1997, the City Council reaffirmed its position banning scavenging. The previous ordinance had a two year sunset provision, and thus needed the Council to assess the law and re-approve the ban or let it fade away.

Boston, MA (from Spare Change)

In late December the Boston City Council voted to pass an ordinance cracking down on aggressive panhandling on the city’s streets. The ordinance — which bans aggressive solicitation within 15 feet of banks or ATMs, blocking the way, and following or accosting someone for money — was first proposed in May.

Though begging is a protected right, city officials want to assure that one should not be intimidated physically, verbally, or otherwise for declining to drop some change in a cup. Banks and ATMs — sensitive areas where money is exchanged — ought to be free of solicitors.

As Spare Change points out these laws usually only mask attempts to regulate homeless people out of existence. This type of legislative remedy to homelessness has been tried since before the Roman Empire, and has yet to work.

San Jose, California

San Jose officials are attempting to restrict a homeless shelter from the operating within their backyard. The Alliance Ministry operators of the 40 bed First Christian Church have said that they will defy the order, and keep their doors open. They face a $2,500 fine per day for defying the city’s order to close the shelter.

The Bronx, New York

Over the last decade, Casa Del Sol has provided affordable housing for over 50 low-income individuals and families. Then Republican Rudolph Guiliani was elected Mayor of New York City, and he drastically changed the policies and personnel of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development. "Squatters" are no longer to be tolerated by the City. Fresh from his illegal demolition of the Fifth Street Homestead in Manhattan on February 12, 1997, and emboldened by his re-election by a wide margin in the November 1997 election (during which the Fifth Street Homesteaders’ suit against the City did not come up once) Guiliani has recently turned his sights on Casa Del Sol.

At the end of November, Guiliani’s HPD served it with an order to vacate on the grounds that certain devices used by some of the residents were deemed to be a fire hazard. Approximately ten days later, HPD arrived to carry out the order to vacate. They brought with them a veritable army of policemen, clad in riot gear, with helicopter support. In addition to forcibly evicting the residents (not without some difficulty and a couple of arrests), the police are preventing anyone from returning to their home. In the meantime, the NYPD has been removing some of the residents’ possessions.

San Diego CA

An eight-day fast by homeless people and their advocates outside San Diego’s City Hall and in a number of cities around the country ended around Christmas when San Diego agreed to keep a public restroom open 24 hours a day. "The people of San Diego got the bathrooms open," said homeless advocate Larry Milligan, who had been fasting with at least two other people on the sidewalk. The city was concerned about the cost and the mistreatment of the facility by malcontents when an attendant was not on duty. The City promised more 24 hour public restrooms if this program is successful.

Santa Cruz, CA from Robert Norse

The City Parks and Recreation Commission of Santa Cruz has attempted to restrict 500-1500 homeless people from the local parks. Parks and Recreation moved to close the parks at sunset in the mid-80s. The City passed a no-camping ordinance. In 1997, Santa Cruz Parks & Rec. regularly harasses and seeks out homeless sleepers in the large green Pogonip area—one of the few places where homeless people can hide from the City’s anti-homeless sleeping ban. Recently, Parks and Recreation unanimously voted to ask the Santa Cruz City Council to further reduce public space and expand police power by making the entire area adjacent to the San Lorenzo River, which runs through the heart of Santa Cruz a forbidden zone at night.

San Francisco, CA from Street Sheet

The City of San Francisco under the leadership of "Liberal" Mayor Willie Brown has begun sweeping Golden Gate park of homeless people. Golden Gate has long been a campsite for homeless people since the flop houses closed as a result of "urban renewal." City officials have swept the park with Sanitation officials dumping all homeless people’s possessions or sweeping the area when homeless people are attending the meal sites. Food Not Bombs (also harassed by the police) and the SF Coalition for the Homeless have attempted to stop the City raids on homeless encampments.

San Francisco shelters are so full they have a nightly lottery for space. Those who win the lottery for the evening have a place inside for the night. Those who do not win find other accommodations.

Santa Monica, CA

The Flamingo Squat, in Santa Monica, was raided by Police at dawn in December. Activists had taken over a former flop house owned by a major Foundation/Think Tank that was slated for demolition. Reportedly 40 people had taken refuge in the Flamingo who would leave every time the police came around. 30-40 cops from the Santa Monica Police Dept. raided the Flamingo squat, and arrested three homeless activists —Jennifer Waggoner, David Bush (both homeless), and Michael Reinsborough (member of Food Not Bombs). Waggoner and Bush had chained themselves to the building. When the police arrived, Michael Reinsborough said, he stepped off the Flamingo property with a video camera to document the arrest. Police grabbed him, smashed his video camera and arrested him. He said when they took him away, Waggoner and Bush were yelling. Pain compliance holds were used during her arrest. The three were charged with "interfering with an officer" and "trespassing.

Denver, Colorado

Demand for emergency shelter by homeless families in Denver has jumped by at least 20 percent in the past year, with projection for a bleak and bitter winter for many in Denver. Despite a vibrant economy and a low unemployment rate, requests for shelter and food continue to increase. Estimates are that as many as 40 percent of Denver’s homeless are families. Denver’s total of about 1,755 beds for the homeless including approximately 455 for families is inadequate, according to a report released by the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Estimates from Denver providers are that there are about 3,300 homeless in Denver on a given night.


Nationally, 86 percent of cities surveyed recently by the U.S. Conference of Mayors reported an increase in demand for emergency food assistance. On average, requests for food at soup kitchens and food pantries have risen by 16 percent. And 38 percent of those seeking emergency food aid are employed, up from 23 percent in 1994.

Other Cities

  • ·         Los Angeles: Nearly a fifth of those seeking food aid and 27% of those seeking
    shelter were turned away because of a lack of resources.
  • ·         Charleston, SC: A 23% reduction in request for shelter was reported.
  • ·         Columbus, OH food requests up 11% in 1997 despite an exceptional local economy.
  • Cleveland’s results show an increase, but not as much as those seen by other cities. Since there is no census or research about the homeless population, the statistics listed are highly speculative.

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine published 1998 Issue 24