Federal report denounces criminalization of homelessness

Additionally, San Diego is about to declare housing a human right.

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Federal report denounces growing criminalization of homelessness

The US Interagency Council on Homelessness published a report last week, chastising the growing trend of laws criminalizing homelessness. Citing National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty data, he pointed to a 50% increase in “camping bans” over the past 15 years.

The report says that prosecuting homeless people can be three times more expensive to find them accommodation. Criminalization is more likely to worsen homelessness due to loss of social support and laws that exclude people with a history of arrest from housing. Even so, 48 states have laws in place that criminalize homelessness or poverty in some way, according to the report.

The agency has published guidelines in June for cities to deal with encampments without criminalization. Recommendations include coordinated outreach to housing and homelessness agencies, including camp residents in discussions about solutions, and providing a pathway to permanent housing. Most cities have failed to take these steps when dealing with encampments, relying on a mix of police sweeps and promises of permanent housing that never materialize.

Camping bans are spreading in part thanks to the Cicero Institute, a think tank that promotes model legislation called Street Homelessness Reduction Act. The legislation encourages camping bans and the restriction of permanent housing funds, according to the Pennsylvania Capital-Star and The invisible people.

HUD raised millions of dollars in funding last summer to address homelessness and signaled that it would prioritize jurisdictions that take a collaborative approach, but the agency refrained from penalizing jurisdictions that criminalize homelessness.

Kent, Washington tightens camping ban

Despite federal recommendations, cities are still imposing new camping bans or tightening old ones. Kent, Washington, has had a camping ban since 2000, but this week the city council voted to increase its sentence to a misdemeanor, according to the Seattle Times.

Other cities in the state have bans in place, including Edmonds, Mercer Island and Auburn, according to the Times. Some of these cities risked violating Martin v. Boise, a ruling that makes it illegal to implement camping bans when there is no shelter space available. According to the outlet, Edmonds does not have an overnight homeless shelter, and homeless people who violate the camping ban can be punished if they do not accept a shelter 35 miles away. A Kent city official also told the Seattle Times that he did not perform Martin v. Boise as requiring nearby shelter, an interpretation that might not withstand prosecution.

San Diego City Council declares housing a human right

San Diego has implemented its share of homeless sweeps, but can be a further step towards keeping people in their homes by strengthening the protection of tenants. The San Diego City Council passed a resolution on Monday declaring housing a human right, according to KPBS.

According to San Diego Grandstand. Among tenant protections: Landlords must pay tenants three months’ rent if they serve a no-fault eviction, the city would provide relocation assistance to seniors facing no-fault evictions, and landlords would again have to offer tenants their rental property if they remove the tenant to facilitate repairs.

Landlord groups objected to the policies, including language declaring housing a human right, arguing that this meant all tenants would have free housing.

The rallying cry that housing is a human right has become an organizing principle for advocates since the pandemic. A bill introduced in Congress last year titled Housing is a human rights law reportedly added funding to HUD using property tax code changes. It would also have restricted funds for cities that criminalize homelessness.

According to National Low Income Housing Coalition, 66% of likely California voters support amending the state constitution to include housing as a human right. According to the NLIHC, “While saying housing is a human right and making it a policy are two different things, changing the rhetorical framework is important to changing policy. Declaring housing as a human right can strengthen housing legislation against lawsuits and support individual legal claims, the NLIHC said.

Roshan Abraham is Next City’s housing correspondent and a former Equitable Cities Fellow. He is based in Queens. Follow him on Twitter at @roshantone.

Julio V. Miller