Housing Not Handcuffs: Ending the Criminalization of Homelessness in U.S. Cities (2016)
Homelessness remains a national crisis, as stagnated wages, rising rents, and a grossly insufficient social safety net have left millions of people homeless or at-risk. Although many people experiencing homelessness have literally no choice but to live outside and in public places, laws and enforcement practices punishing the presence of visibly homeless people in public space continue to grow. Homeless people, like all people, must engage in activities such as sleeping or sitting down to survive. Yet, in communities across the nation, these harmless, unavoidable behaviors are punished as crimes or civil infractions. This report – the only national report of its kind – provides an overview of criminalization measures in effect across the country and looks at trends in the criminalization of homelessness, based on an analysis of the laws in 187 cities that the Law Center has tracked since 2006. We also analyze trends in local enforcement, describe federal opposition to criminalization, and offer constructive alternative policies to criminalization laws and practices, making recommendations to federal, state, and local governments on how to best address the problem of visible homelessness in a sensible, humane, and legal way.