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What are the Impacts of Criminalizing Homelessness?

Updated: Jun 13

This is Alabama.

Alabama experienced homelessness for over 20 years. He had been hit by a car and because he had steel rods in both of his legs, he used a shopping cart to hobble around. He slept outside because he lived on the other side of town from the shelter and also wasn’t allowed to take his cart in to help him walk.

Alabama had been arrested 198 times and had over 250 charges for petty offenses like “obstructing the passageway” which made it almost impossible for him to get into housing.

When outreach worker Lindsey started working with Alabama to help him get into housing, she had a difficult time finding him for his housing appointments because he was arrested so often, sometimes multiple times a week. He was also in and out of the hospital. Lindsey made him a t-shirt that said “Please do not arrest me” on the front, and “My outreach worker is working on my housing” on the back.

Lindsey was eventually able to help Alabama stay out of jail long enough to get him into housing. After he was in his own place, he had no encounters with the police, no citations or arrests, and was able to stay out of the hospital. Less than a year after moving in, he passed away, but for that year, he felt safe and free.

Alabama's story was among several stories included in the amicus brief we helped file to the Supreme Court last month in anticipation of the hearing of Johnson v. Grants Pass. Unfortunately, Alabama's story is not the only one of its kind. Many people who are unhoused are harmed by the criminalization of homelessness.

The Supreme Court's decision on Johnson v. Grants Pass will determine whether it's constitutional to fine, cite, or arrest people for sleeping outside with a blanket or pillow, even when there are no accessible housing or shelter options. Our hope is that SCOTUS considers Alabama's story and determines that criminalization is not the way to go. SCOTUS has until the end of June to make a decision.

As direct service providers in the state with the harshest anti-camping law in the country, we have seen firsthand the damage that criminalization can do. We know that our friends on the street need housing, not handcuffs.

Learn more about Johnson v. Grants Pass here.

Read the full amicus brief that we collaborated on here.


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