Is Public Opinion Finally Shifting in Favor of Housing Over Criminalization?

criminalization of homeless people

A report from The National Low Income Housing Coalition Indicates that homeless legislation might finally be shifting in favor of housing over criminalization.

The international health crisis known as COVID-19 had a great many unexpected aftereffects. One was a newfound acknowledgment of and sympathy toward the homeless community.

Invisible People’s 2021 research shows that 70% of Americans perceive homelessness as increasing within their neighborhoods. The vast majority of survey participants recognized key issues like the lack of affordable housing, rampant unemployment, and foreclosures and evictions as playing significant roles in the crisis.

Criminalizing Homelessness Has Not Helped to Rectify or Even Reduce the Problem

Homelessness in practically every corner of the United States is illegal due to the criminalization of life-sustaining activities.

Legislation that targets houseless people for engaging in acts like sitting, standing, sleeping, or camping in public was peddled to the masses as not only necessary but even charitable, a way of protecting a group of vulnerable people from themselves or worse, a way of protecting school children from droves of ruthless derelicts.

Of course, all of this was rhetoric, designed to keep the street corner to prison pipeline flowing with new blood. In truth, criminalizing homelessness has proven ineffective, expensive, and harmful, costing many taxpayers their money and many homeless people their dignity.

Perhaps now, they see the light, as one recent analysis of ballot choices suggests.

Data from the National Low Income Housing Coalition Suggests Voters Want Affordable Housing

A report titled “Voters Choose Housing: A Summary of Housing and Homelessness Ballot Measures in the November 2022 Elections” examines the shift in public opinion as an increasing number of voter ballots appear in favor of affordable housing and other non-punitive approaches to homelessness.

The case studies derive from four key voter states, namely:

  • California
  • Florida
  • Colorado
  • New York

Approximately 100 ballot measures related to housing, zoning, eviction protection, and land use policies were reviewed to gather the information. Across the board, the majority of voters appeared to be in favor of:

  • Establishing and strengthening rent stabilization in their communities
  • Prohibiting or delaying evictions, especially no-cause evictions
  • Adjusting rental rates for inflation
  • Furnishing close to $2 billion in bonds toward the construction and rehabilitation of affordable housing
  • Raising funds for affordable housing through business taxes, sales taxes, property taxes, and real estate transfer fees
  • Taxing short-term rental properties
  • Enacting vacancy taxation
  • Funneling current and future tax revenue into the affordable housing sector

Researchers made the following statement regarding their finds:

“The near-universal success of affordable housing bond measures shows that voters have a strong appetite for spending to address affordable housing needs – and that this appetite is present in a wide range of communities with diverse housing landscapes and political environments.”

Well-intended Voters Were Still a Bit Confused about Homelessness and Housing

While desiring to vote for solutions that either end, reduce, or prevent homelessness, a fact evident in most of the ballot choices, it appears that some well-intended voters were misled.

In several instances, voters that favored protection for renters and the construction of affordable housing (things that help reduce homelessness) were also in favor of legislation that seeks to criminalize unsheltered homelessness, such as Sacramento’s notorious Measure O.

According to KCRA News 3, Measure O makes it illegal for people enduring the hardship of homelessness in Sacramento County to camp in groups on public or private property. This is a prime example of a bill that will perpetuate homelessness through criminalization, yet it is marketed as a “way to combat homelessness.”

Key Takeaway: Voters Want to End Homelessness and Increase Access to Affordable Housing

They might be a bit shaky about the best possible way to achieve this goal, but people want to end homelessness and increase access to affordable housing. Hopefully, as word continues to spread about the harms of anti-homeless legislation and the dire need to build, maintain, and facilitate affordable housing options, politicians will respond in kind to voters just like you.

Affordable Housing is a Bi-Partisan Issue. Make Sure Your Representatives Know Where You Stand.

We are currently experiencing a housing shortage of at least 7 million affordable homes. Rental rates are skyrocketing with no limitations. Inflation is causing widespread food insecurity, and more than 63% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck.

Never has the quote, “Today it is them. Tomorrow it maybe you.” been so applicable for so many people.

Regardless of which side of the political aisle you’re on, affordable housing is an issue everyone should get behind. Support your neighbors without walls and your neighbors at the ballot box by letting your representatives know precisely where you stand on the issue.

Cynthia Griffith

Cynthia Griffith


Cynthia Griffith is a freelance writer dedicated to social justice and environmental issues.

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