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 an approach to ending homelessness that promotes, protects, and respects human rights. 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.

Human Rights

Promoting, protecting, and respecting human rights and understanding the human and individual costs of homelessness are fundamental parts of our strategy to end homelessness. Here are three key benefits of addressing homelessness in this way: 

  1. 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 - while they may be well-intentioned - 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.
  2. Respect and individual attention are essential. Good strategies start from understanding the unique needs of individuals, families, youth, and Veterans. A perspective that promotes, protects and respects human rights keeps individuals and their needs at the forefront of our work.
  3. 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 their health and well-being and that of their communities. 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 eliminate the criminalization of homelessness and promote human rights. 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.

Fact Sheets

​Research and Reports

​Programs & Projects


Additional Resources

#NAEH15 Begins Tomorrow

Our Chief Labor Is the Building of Homes

We STILL Believe in Human Rights

We STILL Believe in Human Rights

Building Momentum to Abolish Criminalization of Homelessness

Inspired by People: New Report Offers Alternatives to Criminalization

Your Input Is Essential to the Ongoing Success of Opening Doors

Creating Meaningful Alternatives to Criminalization in Our Communities

Criminalizing Homelessness is Costly, Ineffective, and Infringes on Human Rights

3 Reasons to Address Homelessness as a Human Rights Issue

The Power of Constituent Voice: The Rhode Island Homeless Bill of Rights

I Believe in Human Rights: Now is the Time to Act

I Believe in Human Rights: Homelessness- Torture on the Streets of America

I Believe in Human Rights: Homelessness is Criminal—People Experiencing Homelessness Are Not

I Believe in Human Rights: The Right to Counsel for People Experiencing Homelessness

I Want to Believe in Human Rights: Our Only Hope to End Homelessness

I Believe in Human Rights: Want Housing Rights? End homelessness.

I Believe in Human Rights: We Must Recognize our Shared Humanity

I Believe in Human Rights: Defining and Protecting the Human Right to Housing

I Believe in Human Rights: A Pressing Problem

I Believe in Human Rights: Liberty Begins at Home

I Believe in Human Rights: Ending Homelessness Will Require a Human Rights Approach

I Believe in Human Rights: The Fortunate One

I Believe in Human Rights: Youth Homelessness and Education

I Believe in Human Rights: My Personal Commitment to Ending Homelessness

I Believe in Human Rights: A Viewpoint from Europe

I Believe in Human Rights: An Australian Perspective

I Believe in Human Rights

Reducing the Criminalization of Homelessness

Collaborating for Reentry Success: Returning Home Ohio

Ending the Cycle between Corrections and Homelessness

Endorsing Solutions to the Criminalization of Homelessness – Mayors Taking the Lead

U.S. Federal Interagency Reentry Council Releases Resources For Communities

The Reentry Council recently released a set of “Mythbuster” fact sheets that cover...

Approaching Homelessness from a Human Rights Perspective

Remarks delivered by Liz Osborn, USICH Management and Program Analyst, at the U.S. Department...

Effective Community-Based Solutions to Encampments

Ending homelessness is about protecting and furthering human rights. Balancing health, safety, and community impact...

Model Program Profile: St. Leonard’s Ministries

Saint Leonard’s Ministries is a project of the Episcopal Charities of Chicago and...

Jail Inreach: Healthcare for the Homeless - Houston

The Jail Inreach program run by Health Care for the Homeless-Houston begins helping Houston&rsquo...

Interview with Jeanette Kinard: Holistic Public Defender’s Offices

USICH spoke with Jeanette Kinard the Director of the Mental Health Public Defenders (MHPD) Office...

Human Rights and Alternatives to Criminalization

Alternatives to Criminalization The U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness is dedicated to promoting...