Indianapolis residents are fighting back against a new attack against the homeless spearheaded by reactionary City-County Council members Michael McQuillen and Susie Cordi. Their proposed “Sit-Lie Ordinance” filed on September 14 aims to criminalize people for “sitting or lying down on city streets or sidewalks from 6 AM to midnight.” Explicitly targeting the Mile Square business district downtown, this ordinance is nothing more than an attempt by the ruling class to push the nearly 1,700 people who face homelessness out of sight.
This legislation follows from a long national effort to criminalize homeless people for the “crime” of existing. Poor people have challenged the constitutionality of such ordinances in the courts and fought back in the streets, as harassing and arresting people for sleeping in the streets when they have no other option clearly constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.
Advocates of the ordinance claim that the homeless can sleep in the few shelters in Indianapolis. An Indianapolis Star article cites a Coalition for Homelessness Intervention and Prevention representative, who states that the city doesn’t have enough shelter space. Most shelters are only open in the evening, and day shelters like Horizon House, close their doors hours before overnight shelters open. Moreover, many shelters restrict the basic rights of the homeless to sleep with their partners and families, subject the homeless to religious doctrines, refuse service to many disabled people and enforce lifestyle regulations.
Meanwhile, the root causes of homelessness go unaddressed. There is no housing shortage in the United States. In fact, in Indianapolis there are currently over 10,000 abandoned or otherwise vacant homes. We could give every homeless person five homes, and there would still be over 1,500 unused houses!
The solution to homelessness is obvious, yet it requires a society that privileges the rights of poor and working people to housing over the rights of a tiny minority of landlords and banks to private property. As such, affluent politicians accuse homeless people who perform or ask for spare change to survive of being con artists, “faking” homelessness, and making the city unsafe. The real forces who make the city unsafe are the politicians and agents of the state and capital, like the police and ICE.
The City-County Council plans to begin discussions on the proposed ordinance at their September 24 meeting, which will take place at 6:00 PM. A broad coalition of groups and individuals, including the Party for Socialism and Liberation and the ANSWER Coalition, are organizing to pack the meeting with signs and bodies to stand beside our fellow residents. No more criminalization of the poor! Housing is a human right!