Opinion: Unhoused People Need Housing, Not Law Enforcement

The sharp increase in the unhoused population calls for urgent action, not criminalization.

1 minute read

April 14, 2024, 7:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


White sign with No Camping - Violators Subject to Arrest and municipal code in red text with snowy trees in background.

Lori / Adobe Stock

In an opinion piece for The Hill, Margot Kushel and Gregg Colburn argue that the criminalization of homelessness does nothing to address its root causes, and that governments should focus on creating more affordable housing instead.

The authors point to a Supreme Court case, Grants Pass v. Johnson, which could decide whether local governments can criminalize living outdoors when shelter is not available. “This case has resulted in an inaccurate and harmful framing of homelessness by suggesting that there are only two potential outcomes: Either arrest those who are unhoused or homelessness will become an inevitable and permanent fixture of the urban landscape.”

The authors point to a third option: “providing subsidized housing with services to people experiencing homelessness.” Rather than forcibly displacing people, governments can do more to address structural causes like access to housing.

“Coordinated and well-resourced local efforts can make a measurable impact on homelessness, but without federal funding, there won’t be sustained success.” The drastic reduction in veteran homelessness since 2010 reveals the potential impact of an “appropriately scaled” federal initiative.

For the authors, “The answers to homelessness are clear. It is critical that policymakers in local, state and federal governments use their power to address the acute affordable housing shortage that plagues communities in every state in the nation.”

Friday, April 12, 2024 in The Hill

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