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Fines, Tickets, and Arrests won’t solve homelessness

One of the most consequential Supreme Court cases about homelessness (City of Grants Pass, Oregon v. Johnson) may decide the future of homelessness policy and practice – and whether or not communities are permitted to respond with approaches that do not work.

No matter the outcome, local leaders have the power to choose proven approaches to reduce homelessness. The law should ultimately uphold the responsibility of leaders to prioritize effective solutions to homelessness: housing and services, not punitive approaches like tickets, fines, or arrests.

How Housing Supply Impacts Homelessness

On the day of the oral arguments, advocates from all over the country gathered in front of the Supreme Court to express why the Court should rule in favor of Ms. Johnson. It was a powerful convening of voices for housing justice, and each of the speakers – through storytelling, personal experiences, faith traditions or expertise – made our message clear. Ticketing, fining and arresting people for sleeping outside when they have no other options doesn’t end their homelessness.

It makes it worse.

Nationwide, we have a shortage of about 7.3 million units of available and affordable housing for those with the lowest incomes. As a result, there are more than 256,000 people living unsheltered on a given night in America. The most important thing is to get people into housing, instead of choosing legislation that will prolong homelessness. This option benefits both the people who experience homelessness and the communities they live in.

Homelessness systems nationwide are succeeding at re-housing people – but cannot keep up as more and more people enter homelessness for the first time.  The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) data show that in 2022, on average, about 17,000 people became homeless for the first time EACH WEEK.

These problems cannot be solved by fines, tickets, and arrests.

Dedicating Funding for Proven Solutions

Our nation’s leaders need to fund the long-term solutions we know work – safe and affordable housing and wraparound services. In the meantime, they must also support short-term strategies – like outreach, behavioral health and health services, and housing focused shelter – that keep people as safe and healthy as possible.

We know this approach works because it worked for veterans, whose homelessness numbers were cut in half since 2010 by providing affordable housing with the services veterans wanted and needed.

The Impact of Local Leadership

As elected officials in Grants Pass and elsewhere confront these challenges, they are uniquely empowered to use their influence to advocate for federal, state, and local leaders to step up with the resources that could prevent and end homelessness in America.

This includes increasing housing affordability through major and sustained investments in our nation’s rental assistance programs. Right now, only one of every four households eligible for federal rental assistance can receive it.

These resources also include:

  • investing in the production and preservation of housing affordable to those with the lowest incomes;
  • continuing robust investments in our nation’s Homelessness Assistance programs; AND
  • making it easier for people to access the health and behavioral health services they need.

Commitment to these resources happened just a few years ago during the pandemic – BECAUSE government made it happen. It is a choice being made every day by our nation’s leaders.

Communities like Newark, NJ; Dallas, TX; and Minneapolis, MN have already reduced homelessness because they committed to proven best practices, and put funding towards programs and services that work. Every community can achieve similar reductions – if only they commit to doing it.

Our leaders need to support what is proven to work, rather than revert to failed policies of the past.  Safe and affordable housing is a win for everyone because it makes us stronger – and communities will support leaders who fight for it.

Regardless of the case’s outcome, it is essential that local leaders remain committed to the practices that solve homelessness. Advocates can use the following resources to help educate their local leaders about these solutions:

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