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Criminalizing Homelessness Is Inhumane and Ineffective, Won’t Solve the Problem

Criminalizing Homelessness Won’t Make It Go Away (Credits: The New York Times)

The US Supreme Court‘s recent body language suggests that cities may soon criminalize homelessness as a solution to the growing problem of outdoor encampments.

However, this inhumane approach won’t address America’s housing crisis. Viewing homeless people as criminals for having nowhere to go reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of the issue.

A prior 9th Circuit ruling burdened municipalities to provide enough shelter beds for their homeless populations. However, this ruling is being challenged, and the Supreme Court majority’s recent oral arguments suggest it may be overturned. This would allow cities to criminalize homelessness despite it being a housing issue, not a criminal justice issue.

The inhumane criminalization of homelessness (Credits: The Hill)

Homelessness is a complex problem resulting from economic and policy issues like lack of affordable housing and structural racism. It affects over 650,000 people, including families with children and individuals struggling with mental illness. The Supreme Court’s rejection of Biden’s attempt to extend a COVID-era moratorium on evictions has exacerbated the problem.

Criminalizing homelessness is not a sustainable solution. Instead, we need a national response and a whole-of-government policy. Fortunately, a proven model exists: Housing First.

This program, designed to help veterans, provides services and support to ensure individuals receive the help they need. It takes a human-centered approach, asking, “Why is this person homeless?” and mapping a plan to support them.

The US Supreme Court Should End Criminalization of Homelessness (Credits: Vox)

Housing First has been successful, especially for those facing mental health challenges. However, it requires federal funding and prioritization. Cities and states can’t solve the homeless crisis alone; they need federal help.

Congress must act, and the homeless encampments near the US Capitol should serve as a daily reminder of the need for action. Some compassion from the Supreme Court would also be welcome.

Criminalizing homelessness is not the answer. We need a comprehensive approach that addresses the root causes of homelessness and provides support and services to those in need. Housing First is a proven model that can make a difference. Let’s work together to find a sustainable solution to this national problem.

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