The Criminal Justice System and Its Effect on Homelessness

When it comes to homelessness, there are many factors that “encourage” a negative perception. Those experiencing homelessness are forced to face the assumption made by society that they aren’t “good” individuals. As the news and media often reinforce negative stereotypes, it is hard to sway the general public’s negative perception of homelessness. Additionally, those experiencing homelessness often do not have the chance to establish themselves as “good”people. The stigma regarding homelessness doesn’t just come from bystanders and media: it also comes from places of authority.  

Being homeless is a very vulnerable situation for an individual to face. Because finding shelter is a difficult task, those experiencing homelessness are given no other choice other than to live on the streets. 

Individuals experiencing homelessness are commonly believed to be addicted to drugs and alcohol, lazy, mentally ill, criminals, and much more. These assumptions simply come from a lack of education and understanding; many people assume that these individuals cannot get off of the streets because of poor personal choices. These beliefs, however, are far from true. Too often, it is the general public’s negative stereotypes and broken economic, healthcare, and justice systems that keep these individuals on the streets. 

Individuals that have a conviction history are more likely to experience homelessness, emphasizing the interconnected relationship between the criminal justice system and the homelessness population. 

The US Department of Housing and Urban Development states that “more than 50,000 people enter shelters directly from correctional facilities a year.” It is studied that the more times one faces incarceration, the higher their odds are of experiencing homelessness. 

Those who aren’t given or getting help after facing incarceration increase the number of those experiencing homelessness, which results in less shelter beds and other necessities for survival. When someone is facing homelessness, their odds of committing a crime increase because they are trying to survive and feel as though they are given no other opportunity to break the cycle. 

The California Policy Lab states that “people experiencing unsheltered homelessness who were surveyed between 2015 and 2017 reported an average of 21 contacts with police in the past six months, 10 times the number reported by people living in shelters”.

Why are these numbers so high?

Law enforcement might not be trained to respond to the homeless population correctly, but with numbers increasing, everyone around should be doing their part and what they can do to help.

The California Policy Lab also states that “people experiencing unsheltered homelessness were also 9 times more likely than people in shelters to report having spent at least one night in jail in the past six months.” When homelessness individuals are faced with being on the streets, this draws more attention to them. 

People are generally more likely to pay attention to what homeless individuals are doing because of negative stigmas surrounding the situation. The vicious cycle of facing both incarceration and homelessness is hard to break. 

Homelessness comes with criminalization. Individuals tend to not stick up for those who are homeless because they don’t want to get in trouble or assume that the homelessness individual did something that got them in a situation of facing law enforcement. 

Without money to purchase necessities, how will a homeless individual be able to afford representation or a good lawyer? Some homeless individuals feel as though the only way they can make money and survive is by engaging in criminal activities because nothing else is working. 

The cycle of homelessness and the criminal justice system intertwine greatly. With the steps out there to help the homeless, we have yet to figure out how to decrease the odds of them feeling alone and imply that they don’t need to engage in criminal activities to survive, creating another tough cycle to break.


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