Do the homeless benefit from quality-of-life policing?

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Many people have been forced into homelessness due to a variety of economic and mental health issues, and the number is steadily rising in major cities around the world. As a result, the definition of homelessness is the absence of a permanent and regular place to sleep at night. As a result, homeless people resort to sleeping in public places. There are several effects of this condition, including increasing substance usage and reckless behavior. Different state and national governments have therefore started quality of life policing to deal with the threat posed by squatting. The effectiveness of these enforcement measures has, however, sparked a discussion on both sides of the aisle, each pushing for their own viewpoint.

Profile of mental illness among the homeless

Teesson, Hodder & Buhrich (2004) in their study “Psychiatric disorders in homeless men and women in inner Sydney” established that homeless people in Sydney, Australia, were highly likely to develop the DMS-IV mental disease as compared to the entire Australian population. The researchers noted that this prevalence was consistent with the other studies carried out Madrid and the United States. The research further revealed that there was high prevalence rates of schizophrenia among the homeless people than the general population of Australia under the 10-year period observed. The researchers also pointed that the homeless people who have schizophrenia faced a myriad of challenges such as unemployment, poor health conditions, and low income and social outcomes (Teesson, Hodder & Buhrich, 2004).

The study

The study by Teesson, Hodder & Buhrich (2004) also notes that there is high prevalence rate of substance use disorders among the homeless people as compared to the general population. However, the substances abused differed across countries. Teesson, Hodder and Buhrich note that Sydney recorded higher cases of substance abuse among the homeless than Madrid. Australian suicide cases among the homeless people, usually attributed to depression, remained higher than other countries. The study also reveals that cannabis and opiates are the most abused substances among the homeless people (Teesson, Hodder & Buhrich, 2004). The observed lower substance abuse cases in Madrid is associated with the fact that the younger substance abusers live with their families and are able to get the needed support.

Pathways to homelessness

Mental status and economics are the commonly identified pathways to homelessness. Economic pathways to homelessness include the lack of insurance and medical indebtedness, bankruptcies, foreclosures and the shortage of housing, and unemployment. Family dissolutions and conflicts, mental illnesses, substance dependency and abuse, are main mental status pathways to homelessness (Dykeman, 2011). These factors leading to homelessness are associated with many biological, sociological and psychological implications that worsen the homelessness conditions of the people involved.

Implications of homelessness

Biological implications of homelessness include medical problems resulting from poor diets or substance abuse. Social implications include strained relationships with existing family members and loss of social support. Psychological implications include loss of self-identity and self-esteem. These implications subject the homeless to situations of helplessness and dependency and discrimination (Dykeman, 2011).

Fundamental principles of quality of life

Quality of life policing is guided by two main principles identified as improving the well-being of the homeless people and cost-effectiveness. Improving the welfare of the homeless people implies that the quality of life policing aims at driving the homeless people from the streets to social services (Robinson, 2017). The street living is considered to expose the homeless people to a high risk of adopting undesirable social behaviors such as substance abuse.

The principle of economy

The principle of economy or cost-effectiveness seeks to ensure that the method used in removing the people out of the streets is cheaper than the alternative opportunity cost. This implies that the choice of policing must be less expensive than the cost of providing care to the homeless persons in the streets (Vitale, 2010). This principle factors in the costs of securing such services as health and the housing to the homeless compared to pushing them into marginal spaces.

Positive aspects of quality of life policing on homeless people

The role of the police has not been to drive the homeless people out of the space but rather to use the laws to regulate the behavior within the prime space (Stuart, 2014). The police officers enforce the law to ensure proper behavior among the homeless, and to force the homeless into joining rehabilitation programs and social services. Policing in the quality of life policing is thus seen as the use of laws that aim at rescuing the homeless from their deviant behaviors in order to streamline them to the normal life (Stuart, 2014).

Policing in marginal spaces

Stuart (2014) notes that policing in marginal spaces help in containing the irrational behaviors of the homeless and serves to correct them so that they can adopt a responsible life and act rationally thereof. This assertion is premised on the argument that the homelessness is majorly caused by resistance to shelter. As such, policing administers strict correctional procedures and training programs that aim at rehabilitating resistant people to adopt a healthy, responsible life (Stuart, 2014).

Proponents of quality of life policing

Proponents of the quality of life policing of the homeless deem these laws as necessary legislation that are productive in restoring orderliness in the public spaces, promoting the economic growth and reducing the criminal activities in cities (Robinson, 2017). These advocates of the laws argue that these enforcements are accompanied with better and improved social services intended for the homeless people. These expanded social service programs help in changing the behaviors of the homeless and rehabilitate them into becoming responsible citizens again. As such, the laws serve to better the lives of the homeless (Robinson, 2017).

Homeless people-centered approach

Viewing the quality of life policing as homeless people-centered, the advocates of the laws have variously dubbed the laws as "ethical control", "compassionate disruption", "responsibilisation", "coercive care", and "poverty management" strategies (Robinson, 2017). In this respect, they seek to emphasize that the policies are aimed at rescuing the homeless people from the behavioral consequences of street living.

Negative aspects of quality of life policing on the homeless people

Opponents of the quality of life policing of the homeless argue that these laws are punitive and violate the fundamental rights of the homeless people (Robinson, 2017). The critics view these laws as legislations propagated by the inconsiderate desire by the business people to impoverish the homeless in their pursuit of profit interests. The critics consider the quality of life policing as revanchist and a form of discrimination against the poor urban dwellers that only aim to serve the interest of the wealthy (Robinson, 2017).

Secure Cities Initiative (SCI)

A study by Vitale (2010) reveals that the use of law enforcement in the Secure Cities Initiative (SCI) has only succeeded in driving the homeless people out of Skid Row. The initiative has indeed made it harder for the homeless to move from the problem. Since the program relies on police arrests and charging the homeless offenders, mostly with drug-related offenses, it becomes more difficult for arrestees to secure permanent housing, employment or even social services (Vitale, 2010). Fines imposed on these homeless arrestees are usually too high thus compelling them to turn into warrants, further worsening their quality of life. Furthermore, convictions with drug sales or intent to sell charges attract even severer penalties such as permanent ineligibility for scholarships, education aids, and food stamps. These convictions lock the homeless culprits from escaping homelessness and government assistance (Vitale, 2010).

Excessive use of force

Another negative perspective on the quality of life policing relating to the homeless is seen in the excessive use of force which is usually characterized by other discriminative behaviors. The police often carry out purposeless and unconstitutional impromptu searches that have been reported to entail racial profiling among the homeless thereby degrading the quality of life of these homeless people (Vitale, 2010).

As demonstrated by Vitale in the case of Skid Row, the use of police and judicial means to remove homeless people from cities subject them to worse social conditions. These deplorable conditions are highlighted by inadequate social services and as such worsen the quality of life of the homeless people (Vitale, 2010).


Despite the ongoing debate about the effectiveness of quality of life policing as pertaining to the improvement of the lives of the homeless people, one thing remains clear: there is need to address the challenges associated with the enforcement of these laws. It is pellucid and clear that pushing the homeless people from the areas classified as prime spaces into marginal spaces does not entirely solve the homelessness problem. Homeless people still face challenges such as health-related problems, and as such need expanded provision of social services to address their welfare. There is, however, a notable improvement in the quality of life policing in the marginal spaces such as the Skid Row with police resorting to rehabilitative practices.


Dykeman, B. F. (2011). Intervention strategies with the homeless population. Journal of instructional psychology, 38(1), 32-40.

Robinson, T. (2017). No Right to Rest: Police Enforcement Patterns and Quality of Life Consequences of the Criminalization of Homelessness. Urban Affairs Review, 1078087417690833.

Stuart, F. (2014). From ‘Rabble Management’ to ‘Recovery Management’: Policing Homelessness in Marginal Urban Space. Urban Studies, 51(9), 1909-1925.

Teesson, M., Hodder, T., & Buhrich, N. (2004). Psychiatric disorders in homeless men and women in inner Sydney. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 38(3), 162-168.

Vitale, A. S. (2010). The Safer Cities Initiative and the removal of the homeless. Criminology & Public Policy, 9(4), 867-873.

March 23, 2023

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