NLIHC joined eight national housing and homelessness organizations in submitting testimony on August 4 to the Georgia State Senate Committee on Unsheltered Homelessness. The testimony opposed two bills – H.B.713 and S.B.535 – that would criminalize homelessness, force individuals into congregate settings, and impose punitive requirements and urged the committee not to endorse the bills, which are based on template legislation created by the Cicero Institute. The bills would make homelessness worse by addressing the superficial symptoms of unsheltered homelessness without solving the underlying causes. The testimony urged the committee to promote instead the implementation of evidence-based strategies of non-coercive outreach, housing, and services that – if adequately funded – would permanently end the need for encampments, rather than just temporarily shifting them away from public view.
The model bills promoted by the Cicero Institute in Georgia would make it a crime to be homeless, forcing police to arrest those who simply do not have a place to live. The bills would penalize local communities with the loss of funds for opting not to enforce criminal ordinances. Criminalization exacerbates homelessness: it is counterproductive, expensive, harmful to marginalized communities, and dehumanizing. Criminalizing unhoused people without providing additional housing units displaces people experiencing homelessness, risks the destruction of property, and inevitably leads to more encampments.
The testimony highlights the disproportionate impact that H.B.713 and S.B.535 would have on Georgia’s most marginalized populations. A leading report finds that unhoused Black and Latino people are 9.7 and 5.7 times more likely to be cited under laws criminalizing homelessness than white people. The testimony further explains that criminalizing homelessness contradicts guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, controlling federal precedent, and the U.S. Constitution. Finally, implementing laws like H.B.713 and S.B.535 would prevent Georgia from accessing federal funding aimed at helping communities implement coordinated approaches to solving unsheltered homelessness. The Initiative for Unsheltered and Rural Homelessness, launched by the White House and HUD, provides resources to offer a more constructive, evidence-based approach to unsheltered homelessness. The proposed bills would prevent communities from accessing these resources because the bills require communities to prioritize non-Housing First based-measures.
The testimony urges the Georgia Study Committee to focus on solutions that address the underlying cause of homelessness: the severe shortage of homes affordable to people with the lowest incomes and the widening gap between incomes and housing costs. The organizations call attention to communities, like Milwaukee, that have made progress on ending street homelessness through outreach and adequate housing, not by using law enforcement or the threat of forced institutionalization.
Read the testimony at: https://bit.ly/3JzcJ8s
Access NLIHC’s Housing First resources at: https://bit.ly/3vHlhnX