07/17/2013 - Reducing the Criminalization of Homelessness

Today, USICH and the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty met with agency partners to discuss new strategies to reduce criminalization of homelessness. Implementing alternatives to criminalization of homelessness requires interagency collaboration. The Department of State’s “U.S. Report Concerning the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to the United Nations” was just the catalyst needed to bring Federal agencies and national partners together around this topic. Today’s meeting will inform the Department of State’s oral argument on criminalization of homelessness, which will presented to the UN in Geneva, Switzerland in November.

Across the United States, communities continue to criminalize homelessness by implementing ordinances that prohibit actions commonly associated with homelessness such as sleeping, eating, sitting, lying down, or panhandling in public spaces. Criminalization not only violates human rights but further marginalizes people who are experiencing homelessness by creating additional barriers to accessing housing, employment, and services such as a criminal record. Criminalization policies also require substantial state and local resources, making them morally, legally, and fiscally objectionable.

Opening Doors includes a strategy to reduce criminalization of homelessness by defining constructive alternatives to address street homelessness and considering incentives to urge cities to adopt these practices. In December 2010, USICH, Department of Justice, and Department of Housing and Urban Development, held a summit on the creation of constructive alternatives to criminalization of homelessness, which spurred USICH to release Searching Out Solutions. This report challenges the nation to look to outreach, housing, and supportive services to provide a sustainable, measurable answer to homelessness.

Today’s meeting was a great first step in creating interagency collaboration to reduce criminalization of homelessness. While the Department of State continues to work internationally to advance human rights for people experiencing homelessness, USICH encourages local communities in the United States

to look for opportunities to promote human rights and decrease criminalization of homelessness. Familiarize yourself with local ordinances that may disproportionately target people experiencing homelessness and engage in conversation with local law enforcement, housing and service providers, and people experiencing homelessness.

For additional information on criminalization of homelessness:

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