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More cities are making it illegal to camp in public, sleep in vehicles on city streets, or sit or lie down in public, a new report shows.

The laws are meant to curb the problems associated with homelessness, such as public drunkenness and sleeping on the sidewalk. But the report, released Wednesday by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, says the laws criminalize people just for being homeless.

Maria Foscarinis, the center's executive director, says there has been a striking increase in city laws prohibiting camping in parks, on sidewalks or in any public space.

In 2014, 64 communities had citywide bans on public camping, up from 40 in 2011.

The number of cities that prohibit sleeping in vehicles jumped from 37 in 2011 to 81 in 2014. The number that prohibit sitting or lying in public spaces increased from 70 in 2011 to 100 in 2014. Often called "sit/lie" laws, they bar sitting or lying down on any street, sidewalk, entrance to a store, alley or other public place.

More cities have passed bans on begging, loitering, and sharing or giving away food in public places, which affects food banks and churches that give food to the homeless on the street. The penalties vary by city and can include fines or jail time.

Foscarinis says a few things have contributed to the increase in such laws. First, she says, in the aftermath of the recession, more people lost jobs and lost homes to foreclosures, which resulted in more people living in cars, setting up camps in public spaces and overwhelming shelters.

Second, many cities, particularly in their downtowns, are revitalizing urban neighborhoods, which often means expensive housing, she notes.

"They have an interest in not having poor people be very visible," she says.

Foscarinis says there is a housing crisis nationwide.

"We see fewer affordable housing units, particularly for the very poor," she says. Federally subsidized housing often has years-long wait lists, she says.

In May, Fort Lauderdale passed the first of a series of ordinances that officials hope will fight problems associated with the homeless, including panhandling, public drunkenness, begging, sleeping on sidewalks, and urinating and defecating in public.

The City Commission made it illegal to leave belongings unattended on public property. Police can confiscate items after 24 hours. An owner would have to pay to retrieve them. Police could get rid of unclaimed property after 30 days.

So far, no violations have been reported, says city spokesman Matt Little.

The city is trying to balance the needs of housing the homeless with protecting the quality of life for residents and visitors, Little says. About 3,000 people in Broward County are homeless, he says.

The suggestion that the laws hurt the homeless has no merit, Little says in an e-mail.

The city has an outreach program for the homeless through its police department, he says. With a federal grant of $441,000, the city provides permanent housing for 22 disabled and chronically homeless people.

"The city of Fort Lauderdale has a distinguished history of compassion toward those in need," he says. "Protecting our quality of life and business environment ensures continued funding for humanitarian needs."

Little and Foscarinis both say more state and federal funding is needed to address the problem on a large scale.

"Cities do not have the resources to single-handedly solve regional and national problems," Little says.

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