Tiawana Brown on the city of Charlotte criminalizing homeless people

February 20, 2024

Charlotte, NC city council recently passed ordinances to criminalize six things that directly impact the city’s homeless population. One of the three “no” votes came from District 3 councilwoman Tiawana Brown (Leading with Conviction™ 2020), who wrote in opposition before the vote:

Trying to solve big social problems is really hard. I knew that from my own lived experiences before I was sworn in as a member of the Charlotte City Council in December 2023. I was born and raised in the Southside Homes Housing projects in Charlotte, and lived there until I was 18. Two years later I was pregnant with my second child and headed to federal prison.

I have lived through generational poverty, domestic violence, and incarceration — including having my daughter while in prison. While the work of solving these problems is difficult, it is not impossible. Yet it requires those in power to follow the evidence and proven solutions, and not just react and respond with the same old answers.

We should not criminalize the poor …

That is why what some of my colleagues on the City Council and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department are proposing — criminalizing certain ordinances that are tied closely to poverty, homelessness and mental illness — is so objectionable.

In early January, the city council’s Housing, Safety and Community Committee voted 3-2 to recommend giving CMPD more authority to use police discretion to address certain behavior like sleeping in parks and public urination. I voted against the idea. Using more police discretion to solve any large, complex social issue — like poverty, homelessness or mental health concerns — has never been effective. …

When someone is unhoused, unable to access a public restroom, and perhaps suffering from a urinary tract infection, the threat of being arrested “to secure compliance” is, at best, irrelevant to the situation at hand. At worst, it is a threat of force and the loss of one’s liberty that is misguided and disproportionate.

When someone is unhoused and unable to secure a safe place to sleep, being forced to show up in criminal court and provide evidence that they are “addressing the underlying condition for the offense” — whether that is poverty, illness, or some other pressing reality — is not only dehumanizing, it is also disconnected from promoting actual public safety.

The problem we are facing as a city will not be solved through police-enforced compliance. We should not criminalize the poor, the unhoused and those with mental health concerns.

Read the full op-ed at CharlotteObserver.com.

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