Safety Nets Becoming Dragnets?: Criminalizing the Poor

( – promoted by buhdydharma )

Last month I wrote a diary at GOS, Criminalization of the Poor regarding  an increasing trend in many urban areas in arresting homeless people for minor infractions in order to get them off the streets and into the penal system. Barbara Ehrenreich has addressed the same issue in an op-ed in today’s NYT with Is It Now a Crime to Be Poor?

Ehrenreich raises the point that, “I’d be content with a consensus that, if we can’t afford to truly help the poor, neither can we afford to go on tormenting them.” It seems very clear now that even if the nation’s economy is reaching a plateau in certain sectors, it will be a long and painful road for many in finding their own equilibrium or comfort zone with the basics of employment, shelter and life’s other necessities. We as a nation must make sure that we do not become increasingly authoritarian with those who have the least among us. We should avoid turning our safety nets into dragnets.

Poverty is on the rise. Record numbers are signing up for food stamp and welfare programs. US food stamp list tops 34 million for first time With the housing crisis homelessness is also escalating, particularly in certain economically hard hit and warm winter climate regions.

In interviewing a few struggling individuals around the country Ehrenreich reveals additional problems facing the poor. One case involves a Vietnam Vet in DC who got caught up in a debt trap and was arrested on a warrant, removed from a shelter and put in jail. When he got out, he lost his spot in the shelter and is back on the street. Another story out in Los Angeles involves parents who are worried their kids will be arrested for truancy for missing the school bus, because they are too full. The fines for truancy can be as high as close to a month’s rent.

Not only can the poor be unjustly arrested, but so too can do gooders who want to give out free food. The Diggers (waving to local members) would not be amused.

The viciousness of the official animus toward the indigent can be breathtaking. A few years ago, a group called Food Not Bombs started handing out free vegan food to hungry people in public parks around the nation. A number of cities, led by Las Vegas, passed ordinances forbidding the sharing of food with the indigent in public places, and several members of the group were arrested. A federal judge just overturned the anti-sharing law in Orlando, Fla., but the city is appealing. And now Middletown, Conn., is cracking down on food sharing.

Let me highlight this again,

A number of cities, led by Las Vegas, passed ordinances forbidding the sharing of food with the indigent in public places, and several members of the group were arrested.

Fucking, Vegas. Home to some of the most disgusting and conspicuous displays of ostentatious wealth and greed and they make it illegal to give away food for free. Jesus Christ, what is wrong with people?

Anyhow, I hope you’ll read Ehrenreich’s op-ed. I know Frank Rich’s got a lot of attention today, rightfully, but hers is equally as important in my opinion.

Also, a heads up. A few kossacks have started a new google group, DK – Broken Roots,   for bloggers/advocates interested in issues about and facing homeless people. Everyone interested is welcome. The louder the better! Our purposes are to discuss, create and promote Daily Kos diaries and DD essays on these issues, connect bloggers; createprojects, and share related news and resources. Though started by Kossacks, I so hope people here will participate.  I plan on posting my stuff at both places.



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  1. for my air conditioner. 98 degrees in the shade. That is relatively cool too!

    Thanks for reading and if you feel so inclined a bump over at GOS would also be muchly appreciated. Link

  2. …FDR’s “New Deal” and Lyndon Baines Johnson’s ‘War on Poverty” had turned into the GOP-Neocon-Neolib ‘War on the Poor’.  

    What warped thinking.  In San Francisco a few years back, the ‘authorities’ arrested the head of Food Not Bombs for the third time for giving food to folks in parks.  Since it was his third arrest, he was threatened with sentencing under California’s draconian “Three-Strikes” law under which the 3rd conviction can result in a horrendous sentence — 20, 30, 40 years.  I’m not sure.  And I don’t know how it turned out.  I only know it is insane.  

  3. but could be just getting worse, more… I dont know.

    I just commented in a dk diary, about banks and overdraft fees…


    The Penalty for being Poor is… it will cost YOU double.

    We’ve had that saying around here (my house) for years.

    Can’t wait to see how they apply these same principles to Mandatory Health Care Insurance for all.

    “Oh, so sorry, Mr. Working Stiff, your premium payment came in three days late last month so your policy has been suspended and we won’t be paying for that emergency surgery, that you had to have last week, after all.”

    Well Im not good at the imaginary scenarios, but, Im pretty sure it’ll be something along those lines, if they have their way.

    Anyway, it got me thinking about… okay, wait, first, let me just say that I apologize for my intense ignorance on “Economics” stuff…! heh.

    Anyway… Im sure someone here knows more about all this, but I was reminded of a little encounter I had 15 years ago when I was working in my refugee job here. We have a pretty big Vietnamese population here and many involved with the agency I worked for. So, I get invited to some New Years “party” or something. I really didn’t know much at all about them, politically, socially, culturally, but they were very kind to me. I had to rely on the Americans who had years of experience in refugee services, though, for any real information or explanations. It was rather confusing at times.

    So, I see these folks doing their whole New Years thing, red envelopes of new money given to kids and so on. Later, my American co-workers tried to explain to me some of the other things that wuold go on at such an event.

    They – forgive me, Im not going to explain this well at all! … they have some kind of “club”, like a fraternity sorta I think, the adults I mean, and everyone contributes to a Pool, monthly, specific amount, cash. Then, once a year, they have a lottery drawing among the membership, and ONE person gets the year’s sum. And it rotates each year of course.

    My American friend went on to tell me that… this is why they don’t use banks, and a bunch of stuff.

    Anybody know more about this, or what it’s called even?!?!

    sorry for the tangent…

  4. they start closing up suburban houses due to their energy inefficiency.  Kos BTW is forever enemy number one for their head in the sand stance on 911 plus profuse banning of anything outside accepted corpo-fascism.

  5. It’s always been like this.  The trick about history is to emerge from its nightmare, not to go back to that idyllic past we’re supposed to imagine.

    • RUKind on August 11, 2009 at 05:33

    Always has been, always will be.

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