||The examples and perspective in this article may not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (December 2010)|
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Use of the law to discriminate against the homeless takes on disparate forms: restricting the public areas in which sitting or sleeping are allowed, ordinances restricting aggressive panhandling, actions intended to divert the homeless from particular areas, or enforcing laws on the homeless and not on those who are not homeless.
The French novelist Anatole France noted this phenomenon as long ago as 1894, famously observing that "the law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges".
There is a growing trend in the United States towards criminalizing the state of being homeless. Proponents of this approach believe that punitive measures will deter people from a homeless lifestyle.
To this end, cities across the country increasingly outlaw life-sustaining activities—such as sleeping, eating, sitting, and begging—in public spaces, and selectively enforce more neutral laws—such as those prohibiting open containers or loitering—against homeless populations.
Violators of such laws typically incur criminal penalties, which result in fines or incarceration or both. Homeless people with new "criminal charges" have very restrictive housing and employment options, if either, for years.