Shutting Down Lines of Communication

Rhetorical Analysis: “Treating Homeless People Like Criminals”

Fig. 1. Rod. Are you guys ok? 2005. Santiago, Chile. Flickr. Web. 9 Mar. 2017.

Why are homeless people criminalized? Lawrence Downes, author of The New York Times blog “Treating Homeless People Like Criminals,” argues that criminalization occurs because “while homeless people are conundrums, criminals are not.” In other words, criminalization is easier than working on solutions to homelessness. The author lists ordinances and laws that specifically target the homeless population and points out that these laws do little more than shuffle the homeless population around the city. The article refers to the increasing popularity of criminalization in cities throughout the United States and alludes to how these laws are unfairly targeting our most vulnerable citizens. These points all culminate and serve to remind the reader that treating homeless people like criminals is not working and only succeeds in temporarily moving people out of sight.


For the majority of the article, Downes uses a strong appeal to logos and tries to persuade the reader that criminalization is not the answer to the homeless problem. The author offers facts and examples throughout the article, and provides a general idea of various attempts to criminalize homelessness in cities throughout the United States. Although logos is used as the main appeal, at the end of the article Downes switches from a logical appeal to an emotional appeal in an attempt to scare the reader. Despite the presence of plenty of facts, there is a prevalent patronizing tone that causes the article to lose effectiveness. The overall argument of the article is sound; however, the tone and the emotional appeal at the end is likely to make people on the other side of the argument defensive and shut down lines of communication.

The Facts

The facts of the article are very compelling in making a persuasive logical appeal. Downes is able to effectively link the ease in criminalizing the homeless populations, the unfairness of the laws and ordinances that target people who are homeless, and the ineffectiveness of these laws to the main point of criminalization only serving the purpose of removing the homeless population from sight. For example, Downes states “Fort Lauderdale approved laws prohibiting panhandling and sleeping on the street … anyplace you look, you can find recent examples of ‘no camping’ and other types of ordinances to push the homeless out of sight.” In this example, the author is able to use facts to back up his argument and persuade the reader to his side.

The Problem

On the other hand, in many instances throughout the article, Downes uses sarcasm to make his point. For example, “laws try to strike a balance … Spokane has a law prohibiting sitting and lying on the street, unless you’re sitting and lying outside the Apple Store waiting for an iPhone 6, in which case it’s OK” (Downes, 2014). In this example sarcasm is used to indicate that the laws are inherently unfair; however, the use of sarcasm weakens the author’s argument. Using sarcasm in this way not only gives off a patronizing tone but also seems to make light of the criminalization of homelessness.

Scare Tactic

Downes ends the article with an appeal to the reader’s emotions combined with a comparison strategy. In this final paragraph of the article, Downes alludes that the proposal of sending homeless people to an encampment on Honolulu Harbor, where “Hawaii imprisoned Japanese during World War II,” is a case of history repeating itself. This comparison is an attempt to scare the reader into siding with the author, which despite recent success with scare tactics, seems ineffective in this case. An emotional appeal using compassion and empathy is often used when talking about the criminalization of homelessness and seems to be a more effective strategy.

Overall, the article was ineffective because it puts the reader off instead of pulling the reader in. Although there were a logical progression of facts, the use of sarcasm takes away from the credibility of the article and leaves the reader feeling attacked. The patronizing tone of the article seems out of place in an argument about such a serious subject. Also, the switch to an appeal using pathos at the end of the article relies on fear instead of compassion to try to persuade the reader. This strategy seems poorly thought out and fails to pull the reader in; while homeless advocates are likely to agree with the author, he is unlikely to persuade anyone from the other side.

Works Cited

Downes, Lawrence. “Treating Homeless People Like Criminals.” The New York Times. N.p., 24 Sept. 2014. Web. 25 Feb. 2017.

Rod. Are you guys ok? 2005. Santiago, Chile. Flickr. Web. 9 Mar. 2017.

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