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NLIHC Statement on Supreme Court Ruling in City of Grants Pass, Oregon v. Johnson

Washington, D.C. – The National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) strongly condemns the Supreme Court’s decision in City of Grants Pass, Oregon v. Johnson to allow jurisdictions to arrest and ticket unhoused people for sleeping outside, even when adequate shelter or housing is not available.

“This cruel, misguided ruling will only worsen homelessness,” said NLIHC President and CEO Diane Yentel. “It gives cover to elected officials who choose political expediency over real solutions by merely moving unhoused people out of public view rather than working to solve their homelessness. These ineffective and inhumane tactics exacerbate homelessness by saddling unhoused people with debt they can’t pay, while further isolating them from the services and support they need to become stably housed. To truly address and solve homelessness, policymakers must instead work with urgency to scale up proven solutions, starting with greater investments in affordable housing and supportive services.”

The Supreme Court’s decision comes as more and more elected officials choose to arrest, ticket, or fine people experiencing homelessness for sleeping outside, even when their jurisdictions have failed to provide adequate housing and shelter. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), more than 650,000 people experienced homelessness on any given night in 2023, the highest level on record. As homelessness has increased, many state and local elected officials face political pressure to respond to the crisis, but too many have turned to politically expedient, ineffective, and inhumane measures that punish unhoused people for not having a home.

Arrests and fines are not solutions to homelessness because they do not address the underlying causes of the crisis. Instead, these measures make it more difficult for people to access the affordable housing, health services, and employment necessary to become rehoused.

The primary causes of homelessness are the inability to afford housing and the severe shortage of affordable homes. Nationally, there is a shortage of 7.3 million homes affordable and available to people with the lowest incomes. Without affordable options, more than 10 million of these households pay more than half of their limited incomes on rent, leaving them with few resources to make ends meet. They are always one financial shock away from falling behind on rent and facing eviction and, in the worst cases, homelessness. Despite the clear need, only one in four people eligible for housing assistance receives any help due to chronic underfunding by Congress.

Decades of research demonstrate that the most effective approach to addressing homelessness is to provide individuals with immediate access to stable, affordable housing and voluntary supportive services, such as case management, mental health and substance use services, and employment services to help improve housing stability and well-being. This approach – known as “Housing First” – has garnered bipartisan support and is credited with having cut veteran homelessness in half since 2010.

To fully address America’s affordable housing and homelessness crisis, Congress must invest at the scale needed to ensure that renters with the lowest incomes have an affordable place to call home. As outlined in NLIHC’s national HoUSed campaign policy agenda, federal investments are needed to bridge the gap between incomes and housing costs through universal rental assistance, build and preserve rental homes affordable to people with the lowest incomes, prevent evictions and homelessness by stabilizing families during a crisis, and strengthen and enforce renter protections to address the power imbalance that tilts heavily in favor of landlords.