USICH Blog

08/11/2014 - Inspired by People: New Report Offers Alternatives to Criminalization

by Amy L. Sawyer, USICH Regional Coordinator 

in the public eye addressing the negative impact of laws regulating public space on people experiencing homelessnessHere at USICH we have posted articles, hosted conversations, and had guest bloggers join us as we grapple with the complex and challenging issues that people and communities face when being homeless means having to live life outside, in a very public way. 

Without housing options, people often are forced to rely on culverts, public parks, streets, and abandoned buildings as places to sleep and carry out daily activities that most reserve for the privacy of their own home. As communities recognize and struggle with the fact that people without homes often live in public spaces, multiple strategies arise. Unfortunately, many of these strategies include policies that criminalize homelessness.

In a new report, In the Public Eye, author Lucy Adams of Australia’s Justice Connect and guest blogger at USICH elevates the conversation and challenges readers to understand and respond to the issue of criminalization using tools and solutions-based approaches. The report uses lessons from more than 50 case studies and insights provided by more than 60 experts in nine cities in the United States, Canada and Europe to:

  • Understand enforcement-based approaches to homelessness
  • Change the conversation
  • Create alternatives to criminalization

In the Public Eye presents 10 powerful recommendations for better informed, more effective, and more efficient approaches to homelessness and related conduct in public spaces.  For example, the report asks us to distinguish between people experiencing health problems, such as mental health issues, and criminal problems. This is so that our first, most meaningful response focuses on solutions to homelessness, which can have a long-lasting impact on individuals and the community at large. The recommendations also show criminalization as a high-risk, low-yield option for responding to homelessness. So when we criminalize homelessness, we not only put people in extremely difficult positions, we also fail to solve the problem of homelessness, often making the circumstances worse. 

searching out solutions constructive alternatives tot he criminalization of homelessnessWe’ve seen that when communities are flexible, responsive, outcome driven, and when they implement evidence-based practices like Housing First, real and lasting solutions to homelessness are happening. USICH highlights the many effective alternatives to criminalization in the Searching Out Solutions report.

This report can be a powerful tool for communities. It offers analysis of perspectives and law and helps define solutions-based approaches. It also broadens the context of the problem so that community leaders can have meaningful conversations about how we respond to visible homelessness and hardship and contribute to a shift away from law enforcement and the justice system as a first resort for regulating public space.  

As we continue to add to the dialogue through these reports, we get closer to sustainable, effective solutions. In the Public Eye contains an eight-step checklist to design, implement, and evaluate approaches to dealing with homelessness and regulation of public space. We hope that as communities apply new research and evaluate its effectiveness, the dialogue continues so that we can replace the agony and suffering of homelessness with the raucous cry of success and stability.  

Check out Lucy Adams, Manager and Principal Lawyer at Justice Connect Homeless Law, in this four-minute video snapshot of the report, In the Public Eye.

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