Criminalization Is Not A Solution to Homelessness

NOTES FROM NORSE:  Even this staid establishment group is reciting the obvious–a lesson Santa Cruz authorities are willfully ignoring.  With the Armory Winter Shelter closed, 100 more homeless people have been dumped on the streets facing $157 “sleeping” tickets for doing what they need to do.  Unless you were on the waiting list of the Homeless (Lack of ) Services Center [HLOSC], failure to troop to court results in a doubling of penalties and you face credit, DMV, and other potential problems.   The HLOSC & River St. Mini Shelter are supposed to be sending their waiting lists to the City Attorney to be automatically dismissed.  Recent indications are that they’re not only refusing to provide people with documentation they are on the waiting lists, but refusing to so testify to the City Attorney–until forced to do so under repeated pressure.

              Meanwhile HUFF has been collecting for broadcast homeless accounts of recent abuses in weekly tabling by the pedestrian footbridge near Hiway 1.   HUFFmembers and non-members alike:  Contact HUFF at 831-423-4833 to help in direct actions, research, and tabling.

United States Interagency Council on Homelessness - No on should experience homelessness. No one should be without a safe, stable place to call home.

Protect Human Rights, Implement Alternatives to the Criminalization of Homelessness

April 17, 2014

Criminalization is Not a Solution to Homelessness; Communities Need to Create Meaningful Alternatives

USICH is dedicated to supporting states and communities to implement a Human Rights approach to ending homelessness that connects people to stable housing and eliminates the criminalization of homelessness. 

Working with communities and using Searching Out Solutions: Constructive Alternatives to the Criminalization of Homelessness as a guide, (and most recently informed by a ride-along with the San Diego Police Department’s Homeless Outreach Team),we’ve identified several important strategies communities can implement to ensure that they are providing meaningful alternatives to criminalization.


San Diego Police Department’s Homeless Outreach Team is often the first line of response to issues of homelessness (Photo by Mercy Baron)
  1. Consistent, comprehensive, and skilled outreach and engagement. This engagement should include law enforcement, service providers, and other city and county staff in order to engage people experiencing unsheltered homelessness and build trusting relationships, which are the basis for identifying and providing the best and most appropriate housing and services options to each individual and family.
  2. Immediately-available interim housing opportunities with clear paths to permanent housing. When an individual or family asks for assistance to come inside, we should be able to provide that opportunity as quickly as it is available.
  3. A systems-orientation across all agencies and programs. Outreach workers and people seeking help should not have to navigate a confusing and complicated array of program criteria, eligibility requirements, and screening processes to figure out what housing opportunities are available. We need systems that respond to requests for help with consistent, solutions-focused actions, regardless of where that request is made.
  4. Coordinate approaches for assessing needs and prioritizing access to housing and resources. People who are most vulnerable and most in need of intensive housing and services interventions (such as permanent supportive housing) should get the quickest possible access to those interventions. They should not be left waiting in line behind people who could be better served by less intensive and expensive housing opportunities.
  5. Focus on housing first strategies and practices. Removing unnecessary obstacles, requirements, and expectations to housing and emphasizing strategies that can help people to access an appropriate and stable housing opportunity as quickly as possible is critical. The effectiveness of housing first strategies has been proven again and again. People with the lived experience of homelessness know that housing is the answer to their challenges.
  6. Sustaining the leadership and will it takes to create lasting solutions. Above all else, we’ve learned that person-centered community engagement must be a centerpiece in any effort. 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 and has clear leadership people get connected to safe, stable housing and end their homelessness.

Effective Community-Based Solutions to Encampments

Across the country, many communities are wrestling with how to create solutions for people experiencing homelessness in encampments.


Constructive Alternatives to the Criminalization of Homelessness

Unfortunately, the first response to encampments often considered by communities and elected officials are ordinances that criminalize certain behaviors, such as panhandling, sitting and/or lying on public sidewalks, and camping.  

Criminalization measures are not real solutions. Real solutions result from strategies and responses that help people living in encampments achieve permanent housing.

Encampments are not a solution to homelessness. Encampments do not provide permanent housing outcomes, nor do encampments best serve those who are experiencing homelessness. Encampments only offer a temporary and reactive response to homelessness.

However, prematurely dispersing people from encampments is not an effective approach to addressing the issue of encampments. Dispersing people from encampments is costly, contributes to distrust and conflict, and is a short-term intervention at best. 


Many people who live in encampments have nowhere else to go and may be experiencing chronic homelessness and/or be extremely vulnerable due to disability or illness. 


Providing people with access to permanent housing is the solution to encampments, as described in USICH’s publication Searching out Solutions: Constructive Alternatives to the Criminalization of Homelessness.

Ending homelessness is about protecting and furthering Human Rights. Balancing health, safety, and community impact concerns created by encampments of people experiencing homelessness can be challenging, but there are solutions.

Reentry Resources You Can Use

USICH is proud to serve as a member of the Federal Interagency Reentry CouncilStable housing with appropriate supportive services is a key factor in preventing or ending homelessness and reducing recidivism for people coming out of incarceration.  


USICH participates in a recent Reentry Council Meeting (Photo by DOJ)

The Reentry Council recently released a set of “MythBuster” fact sheets that cover a range of important topics. These fact sheets are designed to clarify existing Federal policies that affect formerly incarcerated individuals and their families in areas such as public housing, employment, parental rights, Medicaid suspension/termination, voting rights, and more.


The Reentry MythBusters are particularly useful for:

  • Prison, jail, probation, community corrections, and parole officials who want to ensure that individuals can access health care, behavioral health treatment, and Federal benefits, as appropriate, immediately upon release to help stabilize the critical first days and weeks after incarceration. Pre-release applications and procedures are available for certain Federal benefits (Veterans, Social Security, food assistance, and student financial aid).
  • Reentry service providers and faith-based organizations who want to understand the laws and policies related to public housing, employment, VA services, child support options, and parental rights while incarcerated.
  • Employers and workforce development specialists who are interested in the incentives and protections involved in hiring formerly convicted individuals. The Reentry MythBusters are also helpful to employers who want to better understand the appropriate use of a criminal record in making hiring decisions.
  • States and local agencies that want to understand, modify, or eliminate certain bans on benefits (TANF, SNAP) for people who have been convicted of drug felonies.

For those who want to delve deeper, the What Works in Reentry Clearinghouse offers easy access to important research on the effectiveness of a wide variety of reentry programs and practices. It provides a user-friendly, one-stop shop for practitioners and service providers seeking guidance on evidence-based reentry interventions, and serves as a useful resource for researchers and others interested in reentry.

Read More 

Updates from Our Partners



On April 8, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan announced nearly $1.6 billion in grants to renew support for 7,100 local homeless housing and service programs across the U.S., Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. 


Provided through HUD’s Continuum of Care Program, the funding announced today will ensure these local projects remain operating in the coming year, providing critically needed housing and support services to those persons and families experiencing homelessness.

Read the Full Announcement

View all State & Local Programs with Renewed Funding





On March 27, HHS and Education launched Birth to 5: Watch Me Thrive!, a coordinated, Federal effort to encourage healthy child development, universal developmental and behavioral screening for children, and support for the families and providers who care for them. 
Secretary Sebelius Announces Birth to 5: Watch Me Thrive! Initiative
HHS Secretary Sebelius Announces Birth to 5: Watch Me Thrive! Initiative

Included among the resources is the Housing and Shelter Provider’s Guide to Developmental and Behavioral Screening, which helps providers better serve the developmental and behavioral health of children under five for families experiencing homelessness; it will also help providers facilitate referrals for further screening and evaluation of young children when required.


Learn more 



Table of Contents
Creating Meaningful Alternatives to Criminalization
Effective Community-Based Solutions to Encampments
Reentry Resources You Can Use
Updates from Our Partners
USICH Releases 2013 Annual Update to Congress
3 Reasons to Address Homelessness as a Human Rights Issue
Criminalizing Homelessness is Costly, Ineffective, and Infringes on Human Rights
The Power of Constituent Voice: The Rhode Island Homeless Bill of Rights
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USICH Releases 2013 Annual Update to Congress on Opening Doors

Three years have passed since USICH launched 
This update provides the latest data on the number of people experiencing homelessness, an overview of the progress USICH and its partner agencies have made toward the goals set forth in Opening Doors, and information on USICH and member agencies’ activities and accomplishments in the third year of implementation since the release of Opening Doors  in June 2010.




By Liz Osborn, Management and Program Analyst, USICH


What benefits and challenges do organizations face when addressing the issue of homelessness from a human rights perspective?


The truth is challenges do exist, such as limited resources and varying definitions of what a human rights framework to ending homelessness should mean. But the benefits far outweigh those challenges.


Here are three key benefits of addressing homelessness from a human rights perspective…



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.
But penalizing people experiencing homelessness tends only to exacerbate mental and physical health problems, create or increase criminal records, and result in the loss of key personal documents that can make it even harder for people to access the housing, services, and supports they need to exit homelessness.

Policies that criminalize homelessness are costly and rarely result in housing stability for individuals and families or an overall decrease in homelessness in the community.



John Joyce (left) with Jim Ryczek (right).
By Jim Ryczek, Executive Director of the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless

John Joyce, the author of the Rhode Island Homeless Bill of Rights Law, passed away in February of 2013. Scarcely a day goes by when I don’t miss my good friend, colleague, and kindred spirit. 


The journey we collaboratively made to pass Rhode Island’s law was a demonstration of the power of constituent voice in the socio-political process. It was also a validation of what it means to join with constituents experiencing homelessness on comprehensive advocacy efforts.



Regional Coordinator

USICH is currently recruiting for a Regional Coordinator to join its National Initiatives team and to serve as the bridge between the work of the Council and States and communities across the United States. Regional Coordinators are currently based in several locations throughout the country.  Preference will be given to candidates who are located in or are willing to relocate at their own expense to any of the following states: Arizona, California, Nevada, Oregon, or Washington State.

Find out more here


Program Assistant

USICH is currently recruiting a Program Assistant to serve as the administrative and confidential assistant to the Executive Director, and who is responsible for performing a wide variety of duties that require close association with and full knowledge of the Executive Director and other team members’ duties, activities, and interests.

Find out more here 


Upcoming Events
Addressing TB Among People Experiencing Homelessness Webinar
Thursday, April 17, 2014
1:00PM ET

National Low Income Housing Coalition 2014 Housing Policy Conference

April 27 –  April 30, 2014
Washington, D.C.

More Information

National Coalition for Homeless Veterans’ Annual Conference
April 28 –  April 30, 2014 
Washington, D.C. 
NAEHCY LeTendre Scholarship Applications Deadline


Monday, June 16, 2014


In Case You Missed It
President Obama Proposes Historic New Investments to End Homelessness 

The President’s Budget includes more than $5.69 billion for targeted homeless assistance funding, a 12 percent increase over Fiscal Year 2014 appropriations.


Ending Youth Homelessness: Preliminary Intervention Model Webinar

Watch USICH, HHS, HUD, DOL, and ED discuss the partnerships and coordinated efforts needed in communities and at every level of government to end homelessness among youth.
PYIM Webinar
PYIM Webinar

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