Individuals and families experiencing street homelessness face many barriers on their path to stability. Over and above their housing, physical, and behavioral health needs, many communities implement local measures that criminalize “acts of living” laws that prohibit sleeping, eating, sitting, or panhandling in public spaces, acts which generally are applicable to people who do not have a permanent place to call home, and by their very nature criminalize homelessness. Communities implement these measures as a way to broadcast a zero-tolerance approach to street homelessness and to attempt to reduce the visible signs of homelessness.
Criminalization policies, however, are not a solution to the problem of homelessness and are often costly and consume substantial state and local resources. In today’s economic climate, it is important for state, county, and local entities to invest in programs that work rather than spend money on activities that are unlikely to achieve the desired result. It is better for the individuals who are homeless and for the community if policies and programs are implemented with the goal of safely housing and stabilizing vulnerable individuals and families.
USICH and the Access to Justice Initiative of the U.S. Department of Justice, with support from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, convened a summit on the development of constructive alternatives to the criminalization of homelessness. This summit produced information on effective and promising practices that serve as alternatives to criminalization and are improving the lives of individuals experiencing homelessness and the community as a whole. (Authors)