Criminalization of Homelessness

Is Homelessness a Crime?

In numerous cities and towns in the U.S., there are not enough beds available in shelters for all the people who are homeless, and some shelters close during the day. As a result, many homeless people are forced to live outside in public places like parks, bridges, and sidewalks.

Many communities have laws that criminalize activities homeless people need to do in public to survive including:

  • Sitting or lying down
  • Loitering or loafing
  • Eating or sharing food
  • Asking for money or panhandling
  • Sleeping in cars and outside or camping

The cost of criminalizing homelessness is high. Anti-homeless legislation results in homeless people being arrested or fined, which makes it harder to find housing and jobs and access social services. Criminalizing homelessness does not solve the problem; it violates human rights and perpetuates the cycle of poverty.

The Cicero Institute’s Role in Criminalizing Homelessness

The Cicero Institute is a conservative think tank conducting research and advocacy on economic and social policies that worsen homelessness. It has contributed to the criminalization of homelessness by prioritizing private property rights over the homeless population’s needs.

A prime example is the think tank’s “Reducing Street Homelessness Act,” which erases homeless people through criminalization. This template legislation continues to influence lawmakers nationwide to increase criminalization.

The Cicero Institute fails to address and acknowledge the roots of the homelessness crisis because it fails to consult social workers or experts on homelessness. Instead, the think tank’s policies have led to more fines and arrests, further entrenching homelessness and poverty.

The Grants Pass Supreme Court Case and its Implications

The U.S. Supreme Court is set to deliberate on this critical issue: the criminalization of public camping and its impact on homelessness. The case, Grants Pass v. Johnson, challenges the city’s public camping ban under the Eighth Amendment’s clause against “cruel and unusual punishments.” This historic case questions whether it is constitutional to penalize homeless individuals for sleeping outdoors when no other shelter options are available.

Grants Pass officials argue for the need to reclaim public spaces, while advocates for homeless people warn of the dire consequences of criminalizing homelessness. This case highlights the intersection of law, policy, and human rights in a nation divided on how to treat its most vulnerable residents. The outcome will likely reshape the landscape of homelessness across America.