Homelessness in U.S and the Role of the Police in the Issue

Homeless is a serious problem in the United States. Being the richest country in the world based on GDP, one is tempted to imagine that the high level of economic development translates high income among citizens. On the contrary, the level of homelessness is high in the US where thousands of Americans lack a place to call home.  According to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, there were 633,782 homeless people across the USA in the year 2012 (Fernàndez 189). This number continues to increase each year especially is specific Cities characterized by low-income level and high standards of living.  For instance in Morgantown, homelessness has been increasing at a rate of 30% that is raising major concerns.  Apart from the lack of shelter, the homeless lack other necessities such as reliable healthcare, education, food, clean water and sanitation, and security. Government intervention at the federal and state level has done little to alleviate the problem. Charitable organizations such as student unions, religious groups, and businesses were in the past participating in helping the homeless. Nevertheless, the help obtained did not lead to the reduction of homelessness. These organizations have reduced their interventions in the recent past that has aggravated the plight of the homeless across the United States. There are countries such as the United Arabs Emirates that have managed to address the problem of homelessness better than the United States.  The police play different roles in the problem of homelessness. They can either contribute to increasing the problem or enforce the law in a way that promotes the welfare of the homeless.

Law enforcers in the United States are confronted by a dilemma when dealing with homelessness.  Their dilemma emanates from law and ethics that requires a careful assessment before taking a course of action when dealing with homelessness and other social problem. Absolute application of the law can compromise the welfare of the homeless. On the other hand, allowing the homeless to break the law is against the spirit of law enforcement. The police’s responsibility is to maintain law and order by ensuring citizens abide by the existing laws.

Capital, field and habitus can help in visualizing the role of the police in homelessness. Capital in sociology means a collection of elements that one acquires by virtual of being a member of a certain social class. These elements include material belongings, skills, credentials, tastes, clothing, manners, and posture. The concept of cultural capital was introduced by Pierre Bourdieu. His work was heavily influenced by the Karl Marx theory although he did not consider himself Marxist sociologists. Elements of social capital such as credentials and skills determine individual’s economic wellbeing. An individual with good credentials and relevant skills can easily secure a well-paying job that increases the ability to meet the housing needs. In other words, most of the homeless people lack good credentials and skills that limit social mobility regarding generation of wealth. Habitus refers to the social capital’s physical embodiment to entrenched skills, depositions, and habits generated from experience. Habitus enables people to have their ways in an environment characterized by challenges because experience makes them possess unique skills that enable them to confront challenges. The homeless are confronted by unique challenges that harden them to face tough life situations.  Some of them engage in activities considered unfit by other members of the society.  The field concept helps in comprehending the role of the police in homelessness.  This concept divides the social world into “fields” or arenas that are comprised of people with similar characteristics. Fields are defined by features such as religion, law, and art.

The increasing population of the homeless has direct impacts on law enforcements. There are two main philosophies that complicate the role of the police in addressing homelessness. One philosophy views homelessness as a social problem while the other assumes that the problem is a menace. Viewing homelessness as a social problem assumes that it is caused by failures in the government and the society at large. It means that it is the responsibility of the government to empower the homeless with an aim of enabling them to access reliable housing services. The problem, therefore, lies squarely in the hands of the local government that should be empowered by the federal government through financial support. Based on this philosophy, the police should participate actively in addressing the problem since they are part of the government. The state government’s ability to provide a lasting solution to the problem is compromised by resources limitation. Its agencies should provide a short term solution until the federal government provides a lasting solution.  Being an agency within the state government, the police should play a role in solving the problem. The local government is charged with the responsibility of formulating laws that govern the conduct of people to foster peaceful coexistence. The same government forms a police force to facilitate law enforcement. Some of these laws are detrimental to the welfare of the homeless.  For instance, local authorities formulate laws that restrict the use of public parks at night. These laws target the homeless since most of them spend their night in public parks. Other laws relate to intoxication that to a great extent targets the homeless. Mental health problems facing the homeless lead to intoxication making the rate of substance abuse higher among the homeless than the other members of the society. Enforcement of these laws lies with the police that place them in a position to influence the lives of the homeless.

The menace philosophy holds that the homeless problem is unfortunate and the government should not attempt to solve it due to the far reaching financial ramifications. The view is associated with the    business community and the well-off members of the society. The field concept divides the society into arenas and in this case fields are defined by the level of income where persons of higher income who can afford decent housing are in one field while the homeless are in another field. The well-off members of the society have to deal with intoxicated homeless people who make their lives hard in one way or the other. They believe that the role of the local government is to ensure that activities of the homeless to not affect other members of the society negatively. The concept holds that the role of the police is to enforce the law with an aim of preventing the negative impacts of the homeless on the society. The police are therefore not expected to show compassion to the homeless when enforcing the law.

Problems of Law Enforcement Regarding the Homeless

The police are confronted by unique problems when handling the homeless. Their discretion is of great importance when enforcing laws in an environment characterized by many homeless people. Law enforcement raises serious ethical issues that have direct implications on the government’s image.  The fact that America has a democratic system of government implies that power is held by the people through participation in democratic processes.  Leaders are therefore keen on ensuring that their popularity is not compromised by unethical practices. It is therefore the responsibility of the state and local government to ensure that the activities of the police when handling the homeless do not dent the government’s image. There are three main challenges facing law enforcement in the homeless environment. These challenges include providing services to economically disadvantaged people, controlling the use of public property, and pressure to enforce law.

Providing Services to Economically Disadvantaged People

Providing   policing services to the homeless is challenging due to their economic position. The police force is funded using the taxpayers’ money that tempts people to think that services should be directed to tax payers. Taxpayers assume that it is unethical for the police to focus on providing services to the homeless at the expense of the higher income earner based on contribution to government revenue.   The homeless are exposed to higher security risks than the well-off members of the society. There are many homeless families in the United States implying that thousands of children are raised in the street.  Children are vulnerable making it necessary to secure them from threats such as substance abuse, sexual exploitation, and violence.  Drug traffickers use homeless children to deliver merchandise to the target market.  It is necessary for the police to closely monitor homeless children with an aim of ensuring they are not used in the transportation of illicit drugs. Sexual exploitation and child trafficking are common problems in the United States. It is necessary to ensure homeless kids are secure from perpetrators of such crimes. The violent street environment is not only risky for children but also adults. The police should secure the homeless from all manners of violence. The fact that the magnitude of the identified problems is higher among the homeless people implies that this should get more attention than the economically well-off members of the society. In contrary to the security needs of the homeless, the police across the United States do not give the homeless ideal attention that compromises their wellbeing. It is clear the professional discretion in the police force leads to bias that compromise the welfare of the homeless. It is logical for law enforcers to pay greater attention to the groups in the society that are exposed to more security threats.

The Use of Public Facilities

Public facilities such as parks are reserved for both the rich and the poor.  However, the use of these facilities by the homeless can compromise their usefulness to other members of the society. Some local authorities prohibit the use of parks past midnight for security reasons. However, parks provide a safe place for the homeless to spend night.   It is difficult for law enforcers to ensure that the homeless do not spend nights in the parks. Legal and ethical issues conflict due to the negative implications of enforcing such a law. In most cases, the police advise the homeless to leave the park. However, such an approach cannot have a lasting solution since the homeless find their way back to the parks. Some law enforcers become aggressive to the homeless with an aim of making them abide by the existing laws. Such attempts are reported to the police departments leading to disciplinary measures. Ethics requires law enforcers to act in a way that promotes the welfare of all stakeholders.  Parks are used for leisure activities by the well-off members of the society and the law protects such uses. On the other hand, they provide shelter for the homeless. The conflict between the law and ethics therefore puts the law enforcers in a dilemma not knowing how to handle the homeless in such a situation. As a result, they end up ignoring law enforcement regarding the use of public property that compromises the usefulness of public facilities to other members of the society.

Pressure to Enforce Law

The principle responsibility of the police is to enforce the law.  Policy makers at different levels of the government formulate laws that are aimed at addressing specific problems in the society. Law enforcement involves identifying law breakers and gathering incriminating evidence to prove that indeed there was a breach of law.   Offenses committed by the homeless are hard to prosecute. Some of the common offences are panhandling, drinking in the park, and improper use of public facilities. Such prosecutions hardly lead to punishments. The justice system is committed to upholding the interest of the homeless by ensuring fair punishments are given to petty crimes. Such realities in the justice system reduce the commitment of the homeless to abide by the existing laws. According to the habitus concept, the environment influences individual ways of life as individuals develop capabilities to enable them address environmental challenges. The homeless adopt some behaviors that are contrary with the law. For instance, a homeless person can engage in robbery as a means of putting food on the table.  The police are under pressure to combat crime without considering the motive.

Homelessness in UAE

Homelessness in the UAE is quite different from the United States. The level of homelessness in the UAE is quite low due to a number of reasons. Firstly, the government plays a crucial role in distributing resources to the citizens that empowers the people to meet their housing needs.  Most states in the UAE have oil based economies that enables the government to generate enough resources to address people’s housing needs.  In contrary, the American economy is characterized by capitalism that increases the gap between the rich and the poor. It leads to the classification of people based on the level of income. The lower class is unable to meet adequately housing needs leading to homelessness. Secondly, religion plays a crucial role in addressing the homelessness.  Muslims have strong institutions that require the well-off members of the society to extend a helping hand to the poor. As a result, the poor are empowered to meet their housing needs.

In conclusion, the police play specific roles in homelessness. Their roles are faced with challenges due to the conflict between the law and ethics.  Capital, habitus, and field concepts support comprehension of the relationship between the police and law enforcement.  The law enforcement in an environment characterized by homelessness is faced with challenges such as high pressure to enforce the law, ensuring proper use of public facilities, and provision of services to economically disadvantaged people.

Work Cited

Fernàndez, Guillem. “Poverty, Homelesness and Freedom: An Approach from the Capabilities     Theory.” European Journ


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