Poverty Is Not a Crime

A report on the criminalization of homelessness in Europe

As a result of the economic crisis, homelessness has increased in many cities around the world. This year, lawyers in 13 White & Case offices collaborated to produce a multijurisdictional report that will help raise awareness about the trends in penalization of homelessness across Europe. We were approached by the International Senior Lawyers Project to assist FEANTSA—the European Federation of National Organizations Working with the Homeless—and Housing Rights Watch to examine the laws affecting homelessness in Belgium, the Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Sweden.

FEANTSA drew inspiration for the project from a 2011 report from the National Law Center for Homelessness and Poverty, which explored municipal laws in the US that criminalize or otherwise punish the types of behaviors in which homeless people typically engage. FEANTSA sought to provide similar research for key countries in the European Union to support local and national campaigns against criminalization and to provide advocates with accurate information about the state of criminalization laws and policies in their jurisdictions so that they can develop advocacy materials and events to draw attention to the issue and call for an end to policies that punish people criminally for—essentially—being poor.

Engaging the White & Case network

More than 40 White & Case lawyers worked on the project, led by a coordinating team in London of associate Hendrik Puschmann, trainees Hazel Levent and Rachael Cresswell and supervised by London partner Robert Wheal and New York counsel Louis O’Neill. The team created a 60-page manual covering ten jurisdictions and outlining the ways in which national legislation criminalizes or otherwise punishes the activities of homeless people. It will also be published on Housing Rights Watch’s new website in early 2013.

The report will be a practical tool for ensuring the protection of homeless people’s rights. As the first contribution on the topic to take a transnational approach and apply a uniform format to disparate jurisdictions, our research is expected to provide an initial reference point for activists, academics, advocates and lawyers working on housing rights both at a national and European level.

A successful challenge

While this report is the first stage of an ongoing project, our work with FEANTSA on the rights of the homeless in Europe is already bearing fruit. In December 2012, a group of Hungarian activists called The City Is For All succeeded in challenging the Hungarian law that punished sleeping outside with fines and prison sentences. The White & Case team conducted research on the Hungarian laws in question that helped inform this effort.
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“I know that FEANTSA members will use these reports in their own research and advocacy for policies that better address homelessness across the EU.”
Freek Spinnewijn
Director, FEANTSA

“Gathering this kind of legal information has been a very valuable exercise—one that would have been very difficult for us to carry out ourselves.”
Samara Jones
Human Rights Policy Officer


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