Opinion: Criminalizing Homelessness Is ‘Expensive and Shortsighted’

Policies that punish and fine unhoused people for sheltering outdoors, even when other shelter is not available, are the most visible but least efficient ways to reduce homelessness.

1 minute read

April 17, 2024, 9:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Close-up of "No Loitering or Panhandling - Restrooms for Customer Use Only" sign in shop window.

karagrubis / Adobe Stock

In an opinion piece for Bloomberg Law, Will Knight argues that “using jailing sentences and criminal fines to address homelessness is ineffective and fundamentally unjust,” calling criminalization an “expensive and shortsighted” policy.

Knight makes the argument in anticipation of the U.S. Supreme Court’s imminent decision on Grants Pass v. Johnson, a case that will decide whether states and cities can criminalize unhoused people that stems in Grants Pass, Oregon, where the city issued $300 fines to people sleeping outside even though housing is practically unavailable and there is no emergency shelter.

“Although evidence shows criminalization to be the most expensive and least effective method, it remains the preferred policy. The hidden costs of this approach—policing, jailing, and clogging courts, not to mention the barriers it creates for individuals seeking housing due to fines or criminal records—are substantial.”

For Knight, “A Supreme Court ruling affirming that people shouldn’t be punished for trying to survive could encourage lawmakers to prioritize actual long-lasting solutions. These solutions should focus on ensuring housing is safe and affordable, rather than rely on punitive measures that don’t address the underlying issues.”

Tuesday, April 16, 2024 in Bloomberg Law

Aerial view of Oceanwide Plaza skyscrapers covered with graffiti tags.

LA’s Abandoned Towers Loom as a “$1.2 Billion Ruin of Global Capital”

Oceanwide Plaza, shuttered mid-construction after its developer filed for bankruptcy, has stood vacant on prime Los Angeles real estate since 2019.

May 21, 2024 - The Architect's Newspaper

Entrance to a drive-through car wash at night with green 'Enter' sign.

Ohio Towns Move to Ban New Car Washes

City officials in northeast Ohio are putting limits on how many car wash facilities can open in their towns.

May 16, 2024 - News 5 Cleveland

Ornate, tan stone capitol building with a gold dome roof and low-rise city buildings in the background.

States Are Banning Guaranteed Income Programs

Four states now have laws in place that prevent cities and counties from creating or continuing guaranteed income programs, and several more have tried or are trying.

May 23, 2024 - Bloomberg CityLab

California Governor Gavin Newsom announcing funding for tiny home shelter project in front of quick-build tiny home shelter unit.

California’s Tiny Home Pledge Still on Paper, One Year Later

A promise to fund 1,200 tiny homes for unhoused residents in four cities as a way to rapidly and cost-effectively provide shelter has yet to yield tangible results, but projects are moving ahead in some cities.

May 24 - CALmatters

Residential neighborhood in Colorado with fall foliage and snowy mountains in background.

Colorado Ends Non-Family Occupancy Limits

Local jurisdictions will no longer be able to limit how many unrelated adults can live in a household, a move that supporters say will help lower housing costs and help older adults supplement their incomes and stay in their homes.

May 24 - Strong Towns

A white crosswalk painted by Crosswalk Collective LA in Los Angeles, California.

Guerilla Urbanism Spurs Action From Cities

Rather than take a hostile approach to DIY urbanism, some cities are using guerilla efforts as an opportunity to understand critical infrastructure gaps.

May 24 - Smart Cities Dive

News from HUD User

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Call for Speakers

Mpact Transit + Community

New Updates on PD&R Edge

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.