Human Rights and Alternatives to Criminalization
Alternatives to Criminalization
The U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness is dedicated to promoting opportunities for States and communities to assemble the tools and partnerships needed to implement a human rights approach to ending homelessness. To that end, USICH and the Department of Justice (DOJ), with support from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), held a summit in December, 2010 to explore constructive alternatives to the criminalization of homelessness. As a result of that summit, USICH released a report focused on effective alternatives to criminalization called Searching Out Solutions.
Searching out Solutions offers communities ways to address alternatives to criminalization by providing three key solutions, examples of specific strategies and interventions, and examples of successful implementation of these solutions in communities across the country.
- The creation of comprehensive and seamless systems of care: In an effort to address gaps in service delivery, supported by communitywide planning, many local organizations partner to coordinate housing and services, creating systems of care. These systems of care enable long-term reductions in street homelessness and connect individuals with benefits and services that improve housing stability.
- Collaboration between law enforcement, behavioral health, and social service providers: Collaboration between service providers and law enforcement regarding outreach to individuals and specialized crisis intervention training can limit the number of arrests for non-violent offenses. This partnership can also help link individuals experiencing homelessness with the system of care and permanent, supportive housing.
- Alternative justice system strategies: Strategies that provide alternatives to prosecution and incarceration and offer reentry planning for individuals show an increase in the likelihood that people will connect to permanent housing and employment. This solution includes the use of specialty courts, citation dismissal programs, holistic public defenders offices, and reentry programs.
The right to have basic human needs met are among the most fundamental of human rights and are the core of our moral argument that homelessness should be ended. Here are three key benefits of addressing homelessness from a human rights perspective:
- Housing is a human necessity, and remembering that keeps stakeholders focused on helping people who experience homelessness achieve permanent housing, rather than on services that—may be well-intentioned but—do not ultimately help people exit homelessness into housing stability. Permanent housing is the primary solution to preventing and ending homelessness and the overarching strategy of Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness.
- Human rights put people first. Good strategies start from understanding the unique needs of individuals, families, youth, and Veterans. A human rights approach keeps people and their needs at the forefront of our work.
- Homelessness has a human cost. Yes, ending homelessness is cost-effective for the taxpayer (doing nothing can actually costs taxpayers more money). But dollars are not the only cost of homelessness; humans experience homelessness at a horrific expense to the health and well-being of themselves and their communities. When we make the case that safe and stable housing is a human right, our cause is strengthened. We can tap into the passions, relationships, and experiences that cut across sectors--and budget sheets--to create new partnerships and solutions.
Above all else, we’ve learned that person-centered community engagement must be a centerpiece in any effort to end homelessness. Whether engaged as people who have experienced homelessness, outreach workers, law enforcement, volunteers, funders, service providers, business leaders, or members of a faith group, when the larger community is informed and working together, people get connected to safe, stable housing. This type of collaboration can make a difference for communities as they address challenges with encampments, homelessness, people experiencing crisis, and develop a thriving downtown that welcomes everyone.
Since Searching Out Solutions was released, USICH has convened conversations with community and Federal partners to further discover and encourage effective solutions to enhance human rights and eliminate the criminalization of homelessness. More information is available in the menu below. Finding alternatives to criminalization is a tough job and it is important to learn from community successes. We want to hear from you when your community is implementing creative and effective alternatives that end homelessness and save lives.
Research and Reports
- Searching Out Solutions
- Justice Center: What Works in Reentry Clearinghouse
- Justice Center: Mental Health Courts Primer
- The Jail Administrator's Toolkit for Reentry
- The Urban Institute: Reducing the Revolving Door of Incarceration and Homelessness in D.C.
- The Urban Institute: Life After Prison
- Criminalizing Crisis Advocacy Manual: A Guide by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty
Programs & Projects
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