National Homelessness Law Center Releases First National Study of State Laws Criminalizing Homelessness

A new report from the National Homelessness Law Center (NHLC), Housing Not Handcuffs 2021: State Law Supplement, documents state laws criminalizing homelessness across the country. The report provides data on which states have laws in three categories:1) sleeping, camping, lying and sitting, and vehicle restrictions, 2) loitering and vagrancy, and 3) panhandling/begging. The report finds that 48 states have at least one law criminalizing homelessness, and some states have as many as six.

The report describes the prevalence of criminalization laws, as well as the range of restrictions and punishments for specific types of law across states. For example, six states have laws that restrict panhandling statewide, and 24 states have laws that restrict panhandling in specific public places. In Idaho, for example, a state law restricts people from panhandling on highways, and a New Jersey law restricts panhandling on any terminal operated by the Port of New York Authority. Thirty-six states restrict standing in roadways for the purpose of solicitation, which often includes asking for a ride or soliciting employment.

The analysis acknowledges that Black, Indigenous, and other people of color disproportionately experience homelessness due to structural racial discrimination and that many laws criminalizing homelessness have racist origins. For example, restrictions against loitering and loafing were established during Jim Crow to be applied selectively to Black people.

NHLC urges states to repeal laws criminalizing homelessness, as such laws can further hinder people experiencing homelessness from accessing housing, employment, or other resources. Instead, the resources used to criminalize homelessness should be used to invest in affordable housing and other solutions to address and prevent homelessness.

Read the report at: