In order for us to understand what public policy might actually help improve cities with a large homeless population, then we need to understand what assumptions public policy makers might have about the homeless which work against public interest.
Many police officers (certainly not all), talk as if the homeless are a “criminal class” and they are just waiting for them to slip up and show their true colors. This comes from three areas of police experience:
1. That the homeless have a look of guilt when they approach (often not knowing that the face expression of “fear” is the same as “guilt”);
2. That neighbors complain about the homeless more than other groups of people (Often the calls have to do with something the homeless are not involved in);
3. The homeless are criminals when they are illegally sleeping outside, which gives the police license to treat them as criminals. The homeless feel that the police are their main problem, but that isn’t true. The police are simply the public face of judgment that the homeless most often see.
The homeless are over-represented in arrests ( Psychiatric Survey: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7641002# )
In a sense, almost all of the homeless are criminals because they are sleeping in illegal locations. But that is criminalization of a social group, which has been recently declared “unconstitutional” by the Department of Justice. A large number (but not majority) of the homeless are addicts to drugs or alcohol, but the majority of them are using substances to deal with the stress of living on the street. A study in Baltimore indicated that fewer homeless were violent criminal offenders than other social groups. If the homeless are criminals, it is a social crime, for being a part of the wrong social group.