The homeless population in the United States increased substantially since the 1980s. As a result, research into homelessness and its effects, as well as policies aimed at addressing this vital social problem, have also grown. While criminologists have examined state actions to control the homeless from a critical perspective, we are not aware of any research that addresses the issue of restricting homeless feeding. Because such state actions extend the criminal justice system by criminalizing benevolent acts, restrictions on feeding the homeless are ripe for critical examination. In this article, we examine such restrictions in American cities and argue that they can be conceptualized as a form of state harm. These government practices target homeless advocates engaged in charitable work by prohibiting feeding in particular locations and/or requiring expensive permits and licenses in order to provide food. Using the theoretical framework of state crime we argue that these policies are a recent evolution of laws that target the homeless, and suggest that these polices represent a disturbing trend of policies that attempt to regulate grassroots and community efforts to combat injustice and inequality. We finish by offering new directions for research and action in order to reduce the harm incurred by these policies.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
These figures include individuals in residential shelter locations as well as unsheltered locations.
We do not condone these actions and believe they are important and worthy of attention. However, we wanted to keep the focus on state actions and thus included only those that were officially sanctioned or proposed by government agencies or actors.
Alanez, T. (2014). Homelessness in Fort Lauderdale: A city’s tortured history. Retrieved March 16, 2017, from http://www.sun-sentinel.com/local/broward/fl-fort-lauderdale-versus-homeless-history-20141113-story.html.
Alexander, M. (2012). The new jim crow: Mass incarceration in the age of colorblindness. New York: The New Press.
Atlanta, G. A., & Beckett, K. (1997). Making crime pay: Law and order in contemporary American politics. New York: Oxford University Press.
Barak, G., & Bohm, R. M. (1989). The crimes of the homeless or the crime of homelessness? On the dialectics of criminalization, decriminalization, and victimization. Contemporary Crises, 13(3), 275–288. doi:10.1007/BF00729344.
Barszewski, L. (2016). Fort Lauderdale commission still searching for solution to homeless situation. Sun Sentinel. Retrieved March 20, 2017, from http://www.sun-sentinel.com/local/broward/broward-politicsblog/fl-lauderdale-homeless-frustration-20160627-story.html.
Beckett, K., & Herbert, S. (2011). Banished: The new social control in urban America. New York: Oxford University Press.
Belknap, J. (2015). Activist criminology: Criminologists’ responsibility to advocate for social and legal justice. Criminology, 53(1), 1–22. doi:10.1111/1745-9125.12063.
Blau, J. (1992). The visible poor: Homelessness in the United States. New York: Oxford University Press.
Bramen, L. (2010). Count Rumford and the history of the Soup Kitchen. Retrieved March 18, 2017, from http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/count-rumford-and-the-history-of-the-soup-kitchen-26785526/.
Chamard, S. (2010). Homeless encampments (Vol. 56). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.
Chambliss, W. J. (1964). A sociological analysis of the law of vagrancy. Social Problems, 12(1), 67–77.
Chambliss, W. J. (1989). State organized crime—The American Society of Criminology 1998 Presidential Address. Criminology, 27(2), 183–208.
Clifford, S., & Piston, S. (2016). Explaining public support for counterproductive homelessness policy: The role of disgust. Political Behavior. doi:10.1007/s11109-016-9366-4.
Couch, R. (2014). Hawaii to buy 1-way flights for homeless people to keep them away from tourists. Retrieved September 21, 2015, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/11/04/hawaii-one-way-flights-homeless_n_6101274.html.
Daly, G. (1996). Homeless: Policies, strategies, and lives on the street. London: Routledge.
Devine, J. A., Rubin, B. A., & Wright, J. D. (1998). Beside the golden door: Policy, politics, and the homeless. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.
Dorling, D., Gordon, D., Hillyard, P., Pantazis, C., Pemberton, S., & Tombs, S. (2008). Criminal Obsessions: Why harm matters more than crime (2nd ed.). London: Centre for Crime and Justice Studies. Retrieved from http://oro.open.ac.uk/36313.
Dreier, P. (2004). Reagan’s Legacy: Homelessness in America. Shelterforce, May/June(135). Retrieved from http://www.nhi.org/online/issues/135/reagan.html.
Dum, C. P. (2016). Exiled in America: Life on the margins in a residential motel. New York: Columbia University Press.
Faust, K. L., & Kauzlarich, D. (2008). Hurricane Katrina victimization as a state crime of omission. Critical Criminology, 16(2), 85–103.
Ferrell, J. (2002). Tearing down the streets: Adventures in urban Anarchy. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Fitzpatrick, K. M., & Myrstol, B. (2011). The jailing of America’s homeless: Evaluating the rabble management thesis no title. Crime & Delinquency, 57(2), 271–297.
Flanagan, S. (2015). Food Not Bombs shares a free meal every Wednesday in New Paltz. Retrieved October 8, 2015, from http://www.newpaltzx.com/2015/09/04/food-not-bombs-shares-a-free-meal-every-wednesday-in-new-paltz/.
Foscarinis, M., Cunningham-Bowers, K., & Brown, K. E. (1999). Out of Sight—Out of Mind?: The continuing trend toward the criminalization of homelessness. Georgetown Journal on Poverty Law & Policy, 145, 1–19.
Freedman, M. R., & Bartoli, C. (2013). Food intake patterns and plate waste among community meal center guest show room for improvement. Journal of Hunger and Environmental Nutrition, 8(4), 506–515.
Friedrichs, D. O. (1996). Trusted criminals: White collar crime in contemporary society. Belmont: Wadsworth.
Georgia Department of Community Affairs. (2015). 2015 report on homelessness: Georgia's 14,000.
Hadden, S. E. (2003). Slave patrols: Law and violence in Virginia and the Carolinas. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Henry, M., Shivji, A., de Sousa, T., & Cohen, R. (2015). The 2015 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress: Part 1 Point-in-Time Estimates of Homelessness. Washington, DC.
Holley, P. (2014). After 90-year-old is arrested, Florida judge halts law that restricts feeding the homeless. Retrieved October 8, 2015, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2014/12/03/after-90-year-old-is-arrested-florida-judge-halts-law-that-restricts-feeding-the-homeless/.
Ingraham, C. (2017, February 24). Republican lawmakers introduce bills to curb protesting in at least 18 states - The Washington Post. Retrieved March 14, 2017, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2017/02/24/republican-lawmakers-introduce-bills-to-curbprotesting-in-at-least-17-states/?utm_term=.5c914478bb58.
Kauzlarich, D., Matthews, R. A., & Miller, W. J. (2001). Toward a victimology of state crime. Critical Criminology, 10(3), 173–194.
Kauzlarich, D., Mullins, C. W., & Matthews, R. A. (2003). A complicity continuum of state crime. Contemporary Justice Review, 6(3), 241–254.
Kelling, G. L., & Wilson, J. Q. (1982). Broken windows: The police and neighborhood safety. The Atlantic Monthly, 249(3), 29–38.
Kennedy, K. (2014). “Chef Arnold,” 90, cited again for feeding homeless in Florida. Retrieved October 8, 2015, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/11/06/arnold-abbot-charged-florida_n_6114122.html.
Key, V. O. (2005). V.O. Key. In A. G. Serow & E. C. Ladd (Eds.), The Lanahan Readings in the American Polity (4th ed.). Lanahan.
Keyes, S. (2013). State Rep. Uses sledgehammer to destroy homeless people’s possessions. Retrieved March 27, 2014, from http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2013/11/19/2966371/hawaii-homeless-smash/.
Keyes, S. (2014). Florida city about to make it illegal for homeless people to have possessions in public. Retrieved April 23, 2014, from http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2014/04/21/3428899/fort-lauderdale-criminalize-homelessness/.
Kozol, J. (1988). Rachel and her children: Homeless families in America. New York: Crown Publishers.
Kunkle, F. (2016). Portland wants to give homeless people a free bus ticket out of town—The Washington Post. Retrieved October 23, 2016, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/tripping/wp/2016/03/25/portland-wants-to-give-homeless-people-a-free-bus-ticket-out-of-town/.
Lee, T. C., Hanlon, J. G., Ben-David, J., Booth, G. L., Cantor, W. J., Connelly, P. W., et al. (2005). Risk factors for cardiovascular disease in homeless adults. Circulation, 111(20), 2629–2635. doi:10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.104.510826.
Lynch, M. J., Stretesky, P. B., & Long, M. A. (2015). Defining crime: A critique of the concept and its implication. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Metraux, S., & Culhane, D. P. (2006). Recent incarceration history among a sheltered homeless population. Crime & Delinquency, 52(3), 504–517. doi:10.1177/0011128705283565.
Mitchell, D. (1997). The annihilation of space by law: Anti-Homeless laws in the United States. Antipode, 29(1990), 303–335. doi:10.1111/1467-8330.00048.
Moloney, C. J., & Chambliss, W. J. (2013). Slaughtering the Bison, controlling native Americans: A state crime and green criminology synthesis. Critical Criminology, 22(3), 319–338. doi:10.1007/s10612-013-9220-5.
Office of Public Affairs. (2015). Justice department files brief to address the criminalization of homelessness. U. S. Department of Justice. Retrieved March 20, 2017, from https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/justice-department-files-brief-address-criminalization-homelessness.
Pyke, A. (2014). Fort Lauderdale votes to make it harder to feed the homeless, joining two dozen other cities. Retrieved October 8, 2015, from http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2014/10/22/3583005/fort-lauderdale-feed-homeless/.
Rescuing Leftover Cuisine. (2015). Rescuing Leftover Cuisine. Retrieved October 8, 2015, from http://www.rescuingleftovercuisine.org/.
Rossi, P. H. (1989). Down and out in America: The origins of homelessness. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Roth, S. (2016). 6 reasons why Portland's homeless crisis is at a breaking point. Retrieved March 20, 2017, from http://www.kgw.com/news/investigations/6-reasons-why-portlands-homeless-crisis-is-ata-breaking-point/156737977.
Santiago, A. M. (2015). Fifty years later: From a war on poverty to a war on the poor. Social Problems, 62(1), 2–14. doi:10.1093/socpro/spu009.
Smith, C., Butterfass, J., & Richards, R. (2010). Environment influences food access and resulting shopping and dietary behaviors among homeless Minnesotans living in food deserts. Agriculture and Human Values, 27(2), 141–161. doi:10.1007/s10460-009-9191-z.
Snow, D. A., & Anderson, L. (1993). Down on their luck: A study of homeless street people. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Snow, D. A., Baker, S. G., & Anderson, L. (1989). Criminality and homeless men: An empirical assessment. Social Problems, 36(5), 532–549.
Stratton, G. (2014). Wrongfully convicting the innocent: A state crime? Critical Criminology, 23(1), 21–37. doi:10.1007/s10612-014-9249-0.
Stuart, F. (2015). On the streets, under arrest: Policing homelessness in the 21st century. Sociology Compass, 9(11), 940–950.
Stuart, F. (2016). Down, out, and under arrest: Policing and everyday life in skid row. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
The National Coalition for the Homeless. (2014). Share No More: The Criminalization of Efforts to Feed People In Need. Washington, DC.
The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, & The National Coalition for the Homeless. (2007). Feeding Intolerance: Prohibitions on Sharing Food With People Experiencing Homelessness.
The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, & The National Coalition for the Homeless. (2009). Homes Not Handcuffs: The Criminalization of Homelessness in U.S. Cities. Washington.
The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. (2014). No Safe Place: The Criminalization of Homelessness in U.S. Cities. DC.
The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, & The National Coalition for the Homeless. (2010). A Place at the Table: Prohibitions on Sharing Food with People Experiencing Homelessness. http://doi.org/10.1038/nature.2012.10963.
Waldron, J. (1991). Homelessness and the issue of freedom. UCLA Law Review, 39(2), 295–324.
Walker, C. (2016). Homelessness in Denver: The cold, hard facts behind six myths. Retrieved March 20, 2017, from http://www.westword.com/news/homelessness-in-denver-the-coldhard-facts-behind-six-myths-7348310.
Westervelt, S. D., & Cook, K. J. (2010). Framing innocents: The wrongly convicted as victims of state harm. Crime, Law and Social Change, 53(3), 259–275. doi:10.1007/s10611-009-9231-z.
Wiecha, J. L., Dwyer, J. T., & Dunn-Strohecker, M. (1991). Nutrition and health services needs among the homeless. Public Health Reports, 106(4), 364–374. doi:10.2307/4596952.
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
See Table 1.
About this article
Cite this article
Dum, C.P., Norris, R.J. & Weng, K. Punishing Benevolence: The Criminalization of Homeless Feeding as an Act of State Harm. Crit Crim 25, 483–506 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10612-017-9366-7
- Criminal Justice System
- Public Space
- Homeless People
- State Crime
- Homeless Population