LITIGATION MANUAL SUPPLEMENT: Criminalization of Homelessness Case Summaries 2022
Despite a lack of affordable housing and shelter space, governments have chosen to threaten, arrest, and ticket homeless persons for performing life-sustaining activities – such as sleeping or sitting down – in outdoor public space. In addition to an increasing number of laws that civilly and criminally punish homelessness, governments also regularly displace people experiencing homelessness from public space – a practice commonly called “sweeps” – and seize their personal property. We refer to these punitive policies collectively as the criminalization of homelessness.
Because people experiencing homelessness are not on the street by choice but because they lack choices, criminal and civil punishment serves no constructive purpose. Instead, criminalizing homelessness creates acute harm and wastes precious public resources on policies that do not work to reduce homelessness. Indeed, arrests, unaffordable tickets, and displacement from public space for doing what any human being must do to survive can make homelessness more difficult to escape.