Last week, I was in Orlando for the US Conference of Mayors 80th Annual Meeting. One purpose of the visit was promoting the new USICH report, Searching Out Solutions: Alternatives to the Criminalization of Homelessness. The Conference endorsed a resolution (p. 49) that called on communities to:”adopt the recommendations in the report (to) meet the needs of the larger community as a whole while also enhancing progress on efforts to end homelessness.”
Memphis, TN Mayor A.C. Wharton and Newton, MA Mayor Setti Warren were the primary sponsors; co-sponsoring were Boston, MA Mayor Thomas Menino, North Miami, FL Mayor Andre Pierre, and Asheville, NC Mayor Terry Bellamy. In my remarks to the Community Development and Housing Committee, I noted that "criminalization policies are not a solution to the problem of homelessness and are often costly and consume substantial state and local resources. They incur additional costs that result from more police, court, and jail time. And it doesn’t fundamentally solve homelessness."
USICH and USCM are partnering to offer a webinar on the report later this summer that will further promote the practices described in the report. I am hoping that more communities will embrace these more cost-effective and humane responses to the issue of unsheltered homelessness in our cities.
I am troubled that an ever-increasing number of communities are banning urban camping in response to the encampments in public spaces. There is a sad irony that Americans who are homeless and unsheltered are being displaced and their lives further disrupted at a cost to the taxpayer without solving the real problem.
We will continue to reach out to communities and encourage that they embrace alternatives to criminalization including access to housing and safe shelter as well as collaborative approaches with law enforcement and criminal justice. These approaches offer real solutions.