National Coalition for the Homeless Condemns Supreme Court Decision in Grants Pass vs. Johnson

Washington, D.C. — In a profoundly disappointing ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court today decided that it is constitutional to arrest or fine homeless individuals for using survival items like blankets or pillows in public spaces when no alternative shelter is available.

“Arresting or fining people for trying to survive is expensive, counterproductive, and cruel,” said Jesse Rabinowitz, campaign and communications director at the National Homelessness Law Center (NHLC). “This inhumane ruling, which contradicts the values of nearly three-quarters of Americans, will make homelessness worse in Grants Pass and nationwide. Cities are now even more empowered to neglect proven housing-based solutions and to arrest or fine those with no choice but to sleep outdoors. While we are disappointed, we are not surprised that this Supreme Court ruled against the interests of our poorest neighbors.”

The Supreme Court decision has set a dangerous precedent, allowing cities to continue to criminalize homelessness instead of addressing the root causes of the issue. People experiencing homelessness should not be punished for their circumstances; all levels of the government have a responsibility to protect the most vulnerable members of society.

Donald H. Whitehead, Jr., executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless states, “How a society treats its most vulnerable members reflects its values, priorities, and commitment to social justice. Criminalization has consequences. This decision will result in higher costs, more suffering, and death. We are deeply saddened by the Supreme Court’s supreme injustice.”

In Justice Sotomayor’s dissent, the justice states that the ruling, “leaves the most vulnerable in our society with an impossible choice: Either stay awake or be arrested.” Further, Sotomayor says, “I remain hopeful that someday in the near future, this Court will play its role in safeguarding constitutional liberties for the most vulnerable among us. Because the Court today abdicates that role, I respectfully dissent.”

As the dissent states, the Court’s decision today ignores the need to protect people currently experiencing homelessness from harassment, violent attacks, or targeted enforcement of local ordinances.

Housing ends homelessness. The National Coalition for the Homeless, in partnership with the National Coalition for Housing Justice, calls on federal elected officials to invest significantly in housing now. For over 40 years, we have seen federal affordable housing programs decimated, and it is time to transform the trajectory of our housing policy.

As a down payment to ensure that everybody has safe, decent housing that they can afford, we call for:

  • Universal rental assistance for lowest-income households
  • Public housing repair and preservation
  • Full funding of the National Housing Trust Fund
  • Eviction and homelessness prevention
  • Voluntary supportive and emergency services

The long term investment in our communities and country requires a recognition that robust social housing will end homelessness.

Despite this Supreme Court ruling, we know that housing, not handcuffs, solves homelessness, and we will continue our work to ensure that everyone, regardless of race or background, has the housing they need to thrive.

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