The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is contending that the Detroit State Police Department is taking homeless residents and dumping them outside of city limits. If a non-public entity were to do this, one might call it kidnapping, but when it is a state sanction activity, it is referred to as "turfing." The ACLU contends that this practice violates constitutional rights to due process and to be free from unreasonable search and seizure, as well as a consent decree with the Justice Department. It also shows that homelessness is increasingly becoming criminalized and subject to punishment at the unchecked discretion of the police. This is a way to keep poverty "out of sight, out of mind," and it's being enforced by the institutions supposed to protect us all.
Detroit's homeless population is chronically underserved. For that matter, Detroit is chronically underserved. The ACLU contends that new economic interest in reviving Detroit is leading to re-gentrification, which in turn requires a relocation of the homeless, in order to "socially cleanse neighborhoods." As of yet, the Detroit police department has not responded to these claims. However, this trend, at least in the control of the mobility of the homeless, extends further beyond Detroit's borders than even where the police are abandoning the homeless.
The criminalization of homelessness, and poor treatment of the homeless by the police, is nothing new. It is increasingly becoming a criminal act subject to police intervention to be the wrong type of person in a public space. In Seattle, according to Steve Herbert and Katherine Becket, laws like SODAs (Stay Out of Drug Area) and SOAPs (Stay Out of Areas of Prostitution) prohibit people from visiting certain neighborhoods after being arrested on drug or prostitution charges, and can be used to keep people out of parks and other public spaces. Many cities have laws that an the homeless from panhandling or lying down in public spaces. Barbara Ehrenreich sees this type of control as the increasing criminalization of poverty: as she says, "when you leave the relative safety of the middle class, you might as well have given up your citizenship and taken residence in a hostile nation."
Around the country, homeless people are having their rights violated, whether it's by the police in practice or part of policy. It's time to start a conversation about law enforcement discretion in enforcing policies when it comes to the criminalization of poverty. Homelessness should not be an out of sight or an out of mind issue, and our policies and law enforcement's actions should reflect that.