The United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) released a report, Searching Out Solutions: Constructive Alternatives to Criminalization, (SOS) on April 9. The report proposes alternative strategies for communities that have implemented policies criminializing “acts of living,” which include activities such as sleeping in public and panhandling. USICH was charged by the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing (HEARTH) Act of 2009 to help communities develop alternatives to criminalization for people experiencing homelessness.
The report cites research conducted by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty and the National Coalition for the Homeless that found increases in the criminalization of homelessness from 2006 to 2009. Further, SOS notes that while more people are at risk of experiencing homelessness due to the recession, states and localities are reducing or eliminating funding for services for people experiencing homelessness due to the fiscal crisis.
According to USICH, policies that criminalize homelessness not only marginalize people experiencing homelessness, but are also expensive for communities to implement and do nothing to address the root causes of homelessness.
In its report, USICH proposes three solutions to the criminalization of homelessness:
- “The creation of comprehensive and seamless systems of care that combine housing with behavioral health and social service supports have been shown to prevent and end homelessness.
- “Collaboration between law enforcement and behavioral health and social service providers results in tailored interventions that connect people with housing, services, and treatment and meet the community’s goal of reducing the number of people inhabiting public spaces.
- “Implementation of alternative justice system strategies can reduce homeless involvement with the criminal justice system, decrease recidivism, and facilitate connection with other systems of care.”
While the report does not put forward any specific legislative proposals, USICH notes that legislative changes could further the solutions proposed in the report. For example, participants at a summit hosted by USICH on this topic in 2010 recommended “that Congress ensure that funding streams that support law enforcement activities are not allowed to support activities that criminalize the basic life activities of people experiencing homelessness.”
USICH will host a webinar on the report on April 16 from 3:30 to 4:30 pm ET. Readers can register for the webinar at: https://www3.gotomeeting.com/register/418709382
Click here to view the report.