Law in Contemporary Society
I. Introduction: Homelessness.

Living in New York City among 8 million people: 110,000 of them are homeless in 2008 (Source: New York Times). When I see a homeless person, sometimes I give money. Sometimes, I turn away. A lot of times, I found myself wondering what happened that made them end up on the street. This year has helped me to realize that it may not be what have they ‘done’ to end up without a home but also what has been done to them.

II. Homeless and Law

In criminal law we looked at what happens when a person gets out off prison. Understandably, most people have to submit to background checks in an attempt to find a job. Yet, this reason alone stands as a reason why an overwhelming number of men who come out of prison end up on the street. Additionally, there are other ways within the criminal law framework stigmatizes or supports a ‘retributive’ rationale to those who are most likely to be or are homeless. Vagrancy and loitering laws criminalize the mechanisms by which homeless create a livelihood. Mayors and local government enact these laws so that tax-paying citizens are not “bombarded” with people standing around asking for money. These laws have helped to create a stigma around homeless—painting it as something that is wrong, and immoral—thus why it is illegal. In effect, these laws give people an excuse (and a legal structure) to treat homeless people harshly.

Property laws have also had tremendous effects on homelessness where the lack of affordable housing coupled with local eviction processes result in more people on the streets quicker. The interaction between public and private housing for low-income citizens illuminates the discussion of homeless because of the economic and regulatory forces at play. Before Property, I always thought it was a good idea eliminating segments of the housing markets that were ill fit for human habitation—the “slumlord’s” apartments. Yet, the elimination of the private-low income housing market through legal compliance to implied warranty laws, etc increases the price of the rent, placing more people on the street. Similarly, public housing brings its own set of problems concerning excessive regulation and wasteful spending that limit and constrict putting people in homes.

III. The New Face of Homelessness

Now in the recession, the face of homelessness is expanding. Sadly, this expansion of people living on the street is helping many Americans break down the stereotypes of what homelessness entails. Some people are fighting homelessness by pushing back on the coercive measures in which the government are forcing them to leave. A sheriff in Chicago refused to evict people from their homes—especially those who were paying their rents to landlords, who in return were not paying their mortgages ( Other families (with the help of organizations) are moving into empty, foreclosed homes and affectively saying that the houses are theirs. (

  • Errors like these mean that you haven't proofread at all: not enough to see when a sentence has disintegrated altogether, or when a word that will pass muster with a spell-checker but is not the right word for the place has been substituted. This level of carelessness with the language presented to others' eyes produces, in many readers, unconscious negative judgments. The reader often isn't even aware of having reached prejudicial conclusions about the writer. This is what you or any other professional writer most badly wants to avoid. Your writing should always be how you attract people to purchase your services, never what drives them away.

While these acts of bravery seem like a growing movement of civil disobedience and open defiance to the laws surrounding the eviction process and helping people in such troubled times.

  • This is not a sentence. You have to be more careful.

Acts such as these are shifting the perception about property (rights) as well as homelessness. These instances are displaying that the right to shelter is a doctrine that should be equated to a fundamental constitutional right whereby there should be other structures set in place to enforce rental and mortgage payments when necessary.

  • What does this mean, Jenai? The language isn't in good order, but the thinking too is unclear. Does a constitutional right to shelter mean that everyone gets a place to live that the state will pay for if they can't? Who does pay? What does "enforcing rental payments" mean? This isn't a proposal that you can just slap together in a run-on sentence. You need to explain what you mean and give some reason to believe it isn't just the wildest kind of talk.

While we are in a nation that values the pull-yourself-up-from-the-bootstraps mentality, sometimes that idea is not realistic or functional; and it is unjust to put families and individuals on the street because they are unable to provide payments to mortgage companies that corruptly and irresponsibly organized payments that could not be afforded. Sometimes people are so afraid to break the law, we forget to realize that the law is essentially a human process, which we agree follow because of the general positive outcome of abiding by such structures. The financial crisis has made people realize that the legal structures may be there, some of them are not benefiting the majority of people.

  • So is that a statement that we should be expropriating creditors? Including creditors who are themselves working people, who invested through their pension funds or in a house they bought to rent out and cannot keep from losing if their tenants don't pay? Are we keeping younger people in their homes even if it means depriving pensioners of the money they live on? Or are we just breaking the law to take money away from people who work at Goldman, Sachs? The rhetoric is easy, but what does it really mean?

IV. Questioning Ourselves about Homelessness

Earlier, I described homeless as a “problem.” In reading articles regarding tent cities, I started wondering if homelessness was a solution. To be clear, I believe many people who are homeless—especially those who have recently become homeless as a result of the recession—do not want or should be homeless. I do, however, think it is important to question my assumption that living in a traditional home is the only way we have to live. Many people who live homeless for an extended period of time appreciate the freedom and the energy that comes from not having the tedious, responsibility of answering to the government, the gas company and the mortgage company. Moving forward, I think that we have to recalibrate the thinking as well as the structures that lead people to become homeless in order to find solutions.

  • What should children live in that isn't a "traditional" home? Not a car, I assume, or under a bridge. In a communal shelter? A workhouse? A kibbutz? Here too it isn't clear what you mean and it isn't clear you've actually finished thinking about what you mean.

For more reading:

-- JStHill - 17 May 2009

  • I think it's one draft from ready to begin, Jenai. You'd have work to do cleaning up the language, no matter what, just to get it to the level of polish that's minimum for work you're going to give to other people to read. But I think you also want to take a look at the places where the current draft begins following an idea only far enough to put a quick, freehand drawing on the page, with many questions left to be answered before the reader can even be sure where you're going. Those distort the project here, so that in the end it's difficult to say what the main theme of the essay was or how you developed it. I think you want to tighten up significantly, refounding your outline so it begins by stating your thesis clearly, and shows the steps by which you get to that thesis, what you have to say to the most obvious questions or objections likely to be raised about the thesis, and some suggestions in conclusion about where the idea, if further developed, might go.


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r4 - 08 Jan 2010 - 22:45:55 - IanSullivan
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