And in Sunday’s edition of the USA Today, we shared a painful truth: they’re not alone.
Across the country, cities are stepping up efforts to criminalize the public performance of simple, necessary acts of human existence such as sleeping and eating. According to our most recent national report on the topic, which surveyed 234 cities nationwide, 16 percent prohibit “camping” anywhere in the city.
As homelessness continues to increase at record rates, more cities are resorting to the criminal justice system for solutions. It’s the wrong approach.
Last April, a new federal report agreed with the Law Center’s long-held position. Jointly released by the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness and the U.S. Department of Justice, the report calls criminalization potentially unconstitutional and just poor policy overall. For the first time, the federal report also called them potentially violative of our country’s international human rights commitments, including the covenant against torture.
Moreover, it noted that investing in resources to end homelessness—like permanent supportive housing—is more cost-effective than punishing them for living in public. As we’ve been saying for over 20 years, providing solutions to homelessness makes more sense than criminalizing it.
But despite the evidence, cities continue to pursue criminalization. Maybe they see it as a quick, politically expedient “fix” to a visible and growing crisis. We hope the Council and the Department of Justice will work with us actively to discourage and prevent these senseless and punitive assaults on human rights and dignity.
To find out how you can challenge these laws in your own city, check out our Advocacy Manual.
– Maria Foscarinis, Executive Director