The Law Center has reported since 2006 on ineffective, harmful, and expensive policies that criminalize homelessness. Along with being cruel and wasteful public policy, laws punishing homelessness often violate the legal rights of people without housing and make homelessness harder to escape. These policies also invite litigation which, more often than not, results in positive outcomes for unhoused plaintiffs, but wastes tax dollars, time, and energy that is better focused on solving the crisis of homelessness.
Yet, punitive policy approaches to homelessness are growing around the country. Political pressure to “do something” about visible homelessness has led communities to punish people for living outside, forcibly commit people to mental institutions, and/or concentrate unhoused people into segregated spaces, like congregate shelters or sanctioned encampments, so that they are hidden from public view. But, temporarily hiding homelessness helps no one. Rather, this
strategy produces acute harm by wasting precious public resources on systems of punishment and segregation that will inevitably fail to reduce homelessness, and its visibility, while the crisis worsens.
We are living in an era when housing is unaffordable to people living at the lowest income brackets, a disproportionate number of whom are people of color. To solve the crisis of homelessness, we must address its root causes – a lack of affordable housing and systemic racism – rather than its visible symptoms. We can end homelessness through sensible, cost-effective policies that implement the human right to housing. We all wish to end homelessness in our communities—and the best, most cost-effective, and permanent way to achieve that is to ensure that all who are unsheltered can access adequate, alternative housing. We need housing, not handcuffs.