The Broken Windows Policing Approach to Homelessness

(A coursework in the Sociology course, Sociological Perspectives on Homelessness, describing criminalization of homeless people.)

This argumentative essay deposes implementing the broken windows tactics and the criminal justice approach to deal with youth homelessness. I argue that said problem-solving techniques are inappropriate and unjust, requiring extensive study and careful thoughts to address this social phenomenon. In addition, homelessness among the youths is becoming more visible to the public, a social problem that catches the attention of political leaders upon the negative portrayal of media and harmful public stigmatization for decades.

My arguments will focus on two things: the broken windows policing and conflict with the law perspectives. The government’s actions are economic or market-driven solutions through gentrification, supporting and protecting the quality of life of the dominant social groups. Thus, local political executives have no firm sociological grasp to have informed legislative actions. This kind of government’s response does not solve the entrenched or underlying causes of the problem. Let me briefly delineates my arguments in the subsequent paragraphs.

First, broken windows policing, also called order-maintenance or quality of life policing, is an effort to remove the sources of a low-level street or nuisance crimes as a public disorder, including people (Sparks, 2019). This policy targets people on the streets, particularly the youths, which impliedly describes as disorderly individuals committing minor infractions or survival crimes such as what they consider squeegeeing or panhandling. However, the most significant debate is whose quality of life (Levinsky, 2021) and orderliness are the core of or protected by this policy?

On the one hand, the policy reflects that homeless youths intentionally or wishfully violate public order. On the other hand, the quality of life, here, only refers to the privileged groups. Thus, I argue that these people are victims of ingrained unfavourable circumstances in life, who pursue to experience a quality of life, requiring institutional support services from the same government, which they are constituents. Such a policy portrays the exclusion of the homeless youths who do not deserve orderly and quality life.

Second, conflict with the law perspective strongly links and describes criminalization of what politicians identified or labelled as disorderly bodies. The ‘conflict with the law’ view, I argue, is a pessimistic attitude dealing with people who commit minor infractions; instead of making laws that would help resolve the deep-rooted and consequential problems of the homeless persons. However, I am not justifying their wrongdoings and shortcomings. In this sense, the rules or laws are the ones in conflict with the needs of the people. Consequently, criminalization traps the homeless youths in their dire situations, depriving them of proper support systems from government agencies. It also blocks opportunities, such as employment, education, conducive housing, to thrive for a quality life because of bad criminal records. 

The ‘conflict with the law’ notion, criminalization and labelling as disorderly bodies are strong indicators of government failures in response to the needs of their people. At this point, the government and the general public should change their perspective regarding this social dilemma. The youths experiencing homelessness are victims of drastic social changes. Considering their very young age and scant or limited social life experiences, they lose the right path of their lives, unguided yet trying to live the way their situation offers. They are trying to thrive in the way they know, with the desire or aiming to enjoy the quality of life that anybody else experiences. A thoughtful review and fitting of the laws to the required quality living standards for all would decrease, if not cease, homelessness perpetuation from teenage toward adult life.



Levinsky, Z. (March 2, 2021). Criminalization of Homelessness. Trent University-Durham Synchronous Lecture on Sociological Perspectives on Homelessness.

Sparks, T. (2019). Reproducing Disorder: The Effects of Broken Windows Policing on Homeless People with Mental Illness in San Francisco. Social Justice. 45 (2-3), 51.

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