[ut_title_divider] YALE STUDY, CONCEIVED AND CO-EDITED BY CONNECTICUT ALUM, CALLS FOR END TO CRIMINALIZATION OF HOMELESSNESS [/ut_title_divider]
A new report from Yale Law School — Forced Into Breaking the Law — The Criminalization of Homelessness in Connecticut — aims to stop the criminalization of homelessness in the state of Connecticut. Central to “conceiving, planning, and editing” the report was Nate Fox, tireless homelessness rights advocate and Public Allies alum.
As in many cities across America, thousands of people in Connecticut municipalities experience homelessness and, as the report states, “must fulfill their basic needs — a place to sleep, a place to bathe, a place to be during the day — in public spaces.” Meeting these basic needs becomes challenging, and many times impossible when “city ordinances across the state prohibit these necessary activities in public, banning loitering, panhandling, occupying and sleeping in public places, and creating shelter, among other activities.”
The criminalization of homelessness is fuel to the fire of Fox’s advocacy efforts. When he began his service with Public Allies Connecticut in 2009, he says he especially appreciated the program’s core value of “focusing on assets.” Fox became more passionate in his conviction that all people and communities are full of promise and potential, including those experiencing homelessness.
Fox delved deeper into the issue over the years and one day found himself sitting in on the question-and-answer period of a public discussion on homelessness in Connecticut. A stranger’s words struck a chord with him: “When an average person is desperate for help, they can go to the police. But when you’re homeless, the police don’t take you seriously. So, what are we supposed to do?”
The speaker was Aldene Burton, a man who was drawing on his own experiences with homelessness to catalyze his own advocacy work. And although Fox hadn’t met Aldene before that event, the two would go on to become ardent partners in the mission to end the criminalization of homelessness, forming a bureau of homeless speakers and passing a homeless bill of rights.
Nate’s most recent effort, the Yale study, not only articulates the extent of why Connecticut’s approach to homelessness hasn’t been working, but also gives suggestions as to how it could begin to work better. The study offers recommendations to public officials on all levels, including municipal governments, police departments, the governor, the general assembly, the state senate, the judicial branch, prosecutors, and public defenders.
Ultimately, the Yale study is a call to action. As the authors write, “Instead of using criminal laws to push people living in homelessness even further into the shadows, Connecticut city governments and police departments must immediately stop passing and enforcing laws that criminalize homelessness. Police and local government should instead work together to direct individuals in need to resources and services. [State officials] should ensure sufficient funding for housing and other services in order to keep people out of handcuffs and put them into housing.”