California's New Vagrancy Laws: The Growing Enactment and Enforcement of Anti-Homeless Laws in the Golden State

53 Pages Posted: 4 Feb 2015 Last revised: 30 Mar 2016

Marina Fisher

University of California, Berkeley, The Richard & Rhoda Goldman School of Public Policy, Students

Nathaniel Miller

University of California, Berkeley, School of Law, Students

Lindsay Walter

University of California, Berkeley, School of Law, Students

Jeffrey Selbin

University of California, Berkeley - School of Law

Date Written: February 12, 2015

Abstract

Vagrancy laws conjure up a distant past when authorities punished people without a home or permanent residence. Whether the objects of pity or scorn, vagrants could be cited or jailed under laws selectively enforced against anyone deemed undesirable. Although such laws have generally been struck down by courts as unconstitutionally vague, today’s “vagrants” are homeless people, who face growing harassment and punishment for their presence in public.

More than one in five homeless people in the country lives in California, and two-thirds are unsheltered. The state legislature has done little to respond to this widespread problem, forcing municipal governments to address homelessness with local laws and resources. Cities have responded by enacting and enforcing new vagrancy laws — a wide range of municipal codes that target or disproportionately impact homeless people.

Through extensive archival research and case studies of several cities, the report presents detailed evidence of the growing enactment and enforcement of municipal anti-homeless laws in recent decades as cities engage in a race to the bottom to push out homeless people. It concludes with a call for a state-level solution to end the expensive and inhumane treatment of some of California's most vulnerable residents.

Keywords: homeless, criminalization, vagrancy, Jim Crow, anti-Okie, ugly laws, black codes

Suggested Citation

Fisher, Marina and Miller, Nathaniel and Walter, Lindsay and Selbin, Jeffrey, California's New Vagrancy Laws: The Growing Enactment and Enforcement of Anti-Homeless Laws in the Golden State (February 12, 2015). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2558944 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2558944

Marina Fisher

University of California, Berkeley, The Richard & Rhoda Goldman School of Public Policy, Students ( email )

Berkeley, CA
United States

Nathaniel Miller

University of California, Berkeley, School of Law, Students ( email )

Berkeley, CA
United States

Lindsay Walter

University of California, Berkeley, School of Law, Students ( email )

Berkeley, CA
United States

Jeffrey Selbin (Contact Author)

University of California, Berkeley - School of Law ( email )

215 Boalt Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720-7200
United States

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