Within our communities in the United States, there is a homeless epidemic that has been severely overlooked. Over 600,000 Americans in 2023 were considered homeless. That is a 12 percent increase from 2022. Furthermore, 50,000 individuals of that percentage are homeless families, and 111,000 are homeless children. These statistics have continued to grow each year, whether it be slowly or in large jumps, the rate of homelessness is becoming alarming. When looking closely at homeless minorities, 64 percent of the homeless population are Latino/Black, as well as 35,000 are homeless veterans who cannot get help from the government that they served.  

 These statistics above provide a small depiction of the homeless crisis that the United States is facing. With overcrowded shelters, little to no government assistance, extreme temperature changes and unpredictable weather events, and even new architectural developments that are meant to void off homeless dwellers. 

The Creation of Anti-Homeless Architecture 

Due to the swelling rate of homelessness, throughout the United States there has been an increase in a form of architecture called hostile architecture, however the general public has coined a different term for these structures, that term is Anti-homeless Architecture. Anti-homeless Architecture creates hostile outdoor spaces that ensure public property cannot be used as a place to rest for the homeless. Many of these new structures are overlooked in the day to day because we see them as simple benches or ledges, but they are more than what meets the eye. Listed below are  some Anti-homeless installations that you may not have noticed : 

  • Putting arm rests in the middle of the seat to make it look like three seats
  • Curved and slanted benches
  • Extra rough and textured pavements to prevent homeless sleeping
  • Spiked window sills 
  • Corners of buildings barred off to prevent sleeping
  • Raised and fenced grates (with spikes or sticks on it) to prevent homeless from sleeping over top of it for warmth
  • Tiered seating
  • Retractable spikes
  • Boulders under bridges to prevent homeless squatting

These installation measures stated above have been constructed to fool the general public in believing it is strictly for cosmetic purposes. When we are outside, of course we won’t assume the spikes on a ledge are for people, of course they are just for the birds. A box cover over a grate? Of course that is just to keep garbage out of it. On top of outlandish coverings for ledges and grates, the creation of slanted and oddly formed benches is mind boggling. Half of the time citizens who see these think they are odd art formations and not things you can sit on. 

It is easy to glance at something and assume it is just as simple as a smaller environmental purpose or a new way of architectural expression, however if you genuinely look at these structures you will realize that they aren’t trying to keep animals and garbage off and they aren’t trying for a “new look”, they are trying to ward off people. Ultimately, making it harder for homeless people to find a place to rest. 

Homelessness in the United States

Nearly 653,104 people were experiencing homelessness in the United States in 2023. That is a 12 percent increase from 2022 and is the largest statistic of homelessness that has been seen in the past 18 years. Along with this drastic increase means a drastic increase in the overpopulation of homeless shelters. Every 6 and 10 people can get into a homeless shelter or a safe haven for  a few nights, but the other 40% who cannot must sleep outside in extreme temperatures and uncomfortable conditions. The action to create more shelters has not taken place nor has any action to solve the housing crisis been passed or even truly considered. 

Homelessness increased in 41 of the 50 states between 2022 and 2023, with New Hampshire, New York and New Mexico having the highest increases overall.  New York is the most affected state, habituating over 100,000 homeless human beings. The level of homelessness in New York has not seen this height since the Great Depression. Along with New York New Hampshire has had a significant increase in their homeless population by 52% and New Mexico saw a 50% increase. These drastic increases are due to the lack of affordable housing in the United States. With increased rental rates to ensure the landlord makes the most profit possible, less section eight housing and more new construction housing for upper middle class citizens, the homeless crisis gets put to the back burner and will begin to increase as the prices increase and affordable housing decreases. 

Homelessness in New Jersey 

New Jersey is a heavily populated state, reaching 9.267 million residents and rising, from all walks of life. New Jersey is genuinely a melting pot, so having this amount of people you would think there would be a space for everyone, whether it be people housing themselves or getting state assistance, however that is not the case.  The New Jersey housing crisis has reached astronomical proportions. The need of housing is exceeding the supply that is at the ready, Housing in any area is extremely overpriced when both renting and buying. The areas that do have housing are raising their prices in order to remove old residents and replace them with new ones, or evicting those who are behind on rent or can no longer afford rent due to the consistently rising cost. The housing crisis is the foremost reason why the homeless crisis is as far gone as it is. New Jersey alone has over 10,000 homeless individuals counted in 2023. That is a 2,000 person increase since 2022. While New Jersey  officials are continually attempting to put legislature in place to protect the people in threat of losing their homes, or to protect those who do not have homes, they keep falling short. 

The two counties within New Jersey that have the most substantial homeless issues are Camden and Essex county. According to NJ Spotlight,  1 in 5 people in Essex County are homeless.  But why specifically are these two counties plagued by the homeless crisis? Both Camden and Essex county are post industrial cities, meaning they used to be big within agriculture and manufacturing, however once the decline began in the mid to late 1900’s they could not recover amongst other issues such as race riots and red lining, which is when a person who is deemed a financial liability will be refused for a loan or insurance. 

For Essex and Passaic counties, Bill A1842 was proposed. This bill would have served as a  Homeless Bill of Rights which would mean that homeless people would be protected by law to sleep and reside anywhere on public property with the threat of fines, jail time, police intervention etc. this bill was proposed but was not passed. However, Phil Murphy passed Bill A4755 in May of 2023 that permits mental and behavioral health professionals to operate within emergency shelters that serve people experiencing homelessness. While this legislature is a great stride, it does not help those who cannot get into said emergency shelters and it does not help those who are without homes. If more emergency housing was provided, more housing vouchers, more section eight housing, etc. this crisis could start to slow down and more people could be off the streets of New Jersey. 


Anti Homeless Legislature 

Anti-Homeless tactics have become exceedingly popular around the United States, these tactics even go as far as criminalizing homelessness. Missouri Governor Mike Parsons recently passed a new state law making it a crime for any person to sleep on state property. For unhoused people, sleeping in public parks or under city highways could mean up to $750 in fines or 15 days in prison for multiple offenses. Furthermore, Los Angeles is doing something similar, the city council voted to ban homeless encampments within 500 ft of schools and daycares, which is an extension of the city’s anti-camping law. Places like Missouri, Texas and Tennessee have state wide camping bans on public property. This means that if you are a homeless individual you cannot camp and or sleep anywhere owned by the state, if you do there are lengthy fines, which a homeless individual more than likely cannot pay, and even prison time.

On a better note, places such as Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Illinois have a Homeless Bill of Rights that ensures no homeless individual can be discriminated against and they can reside where they so choose. This means that the homeless population in these states are allowed to reside on public property without threat of police and law enforcement intervention. Furthermore a bill presented by Washington State, Senate Bill 6231, was proposed for prohibiting the use of hostile architecture elements for publicly accessible buildings or real property.  This bill is still being debated however if passed it would mean Washington can no longer use hostile architecture to prevent the homeless population from sleeping and setting up camp in public spaces and public structures. 

To conclude, the homeless crisis within America and our own state of New Jersey cannot be taken lightly. We as a nation must start becoming more aware of the certain legislatures and architectural structures that are being put in place and how they are having severely negative ramifications on our homeless population. I urge you to start supporting local shelters, advocate and contact your legislators for more affordable housing options and or proposals, and try to begin a community initiative to try and put this crisis to rest. Your voice can make a difference, it is our responsibility to stand up for those less fortunate, this can cause a ripple effect that might just begin a movement for change.  

About the Author: Molly Flammia is currently a Service Specialist Intern at the Lesniak Institute. She is a student at Kean University, expecting a bachelor’s degree in Marketing.