Volume 31

Criminalization of the Unhoused: A Case Study of Alternatives to a Punitive System

by Laurie Hauber

Millions of people today experience housing insecurity and homelessness, a large percentage of whom live without access to a sanctioned shelter site. The predominant response to this housing and homelessness crisis by local governments throughout the country is the enforcement of punitive measures that are ineffective and inhumane. A punitive approach to addressing unsheltered homelessness creates insurmountable barriers to housing and employment, keeping people in a cycle of homelessness that becomes increasingly difficult to overcome. Using law enforcement as the primary tool to address homelessness is not just counterproductive—it is expensive. Multiple studies have demonstrated the significant cost savings by redirecting enforcement dollars toward housing and support services. 

The web of laws that criminalize homelessness is one of the systemic barriers that prevents unhoused people from transitioning to a more stable situation. This criminalization is part of a long history of exclusionary laws that furthers the oppression of marginalized groups and contributes to higher rates of homelessness.

This Article provides a roadmap for practitioners, academics and community activists to compel reform at the local level through a community centered advocacy strategy that redirects local governments away from punitive approaches toward more humane, community-based solutions. The proposed reforms are supported by empirical analysis, lawsuits that have successfully challenged local laws that disproportionately impact the unhoused, as well as ordinances and policies enacted in certain jurisdictions in an effort to decriminalize homelessness. The Article focuses on Eugene, Oregon, a city with one of the highest per capita rates of homelessness in the United States, as its case study. The example of Eugene has broad applicability to jurisdictions throughout the country, demonstrating both the impact on unhoused individuals and the high costs incurred by the city to maintain its current punitive system.

Read the full article here 


Subscribe to GJPLP