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Supreme Court homelessness ruling highlights need for affordable housing

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled today in favor of the city of Grants Pass, Oregon, setting a precedent for criminalizing people experiencing homelessness.

Originally filed in 2018, Johnson v. Grants Pass was taken up by the court as other states, including Georgia and Florida, have passed legislation that restricts sleeping or unauthorized “camping” on public property.

Homelessness is a humanitarian crisis, not a moral failing. The Supreme Court held that it can be a crime to not have a place in which to sleep – at a moment when housing is unaffordable for half of renters in the country – proving that it continues to be out of touch with the American public. As a country, we must stop arresting, fining and jailing people for not having housing, and instead address the issues that are causing housing to be unaffordable.

The Southern Poverty Law Center submitted an amicus brief to the court in support of the claims of the plaintiffs experiencing homelessness. The brief examines the problematic history behind vagrancy laws, which were used as a tool of economic and racial subjugation, particularly in the Deep South, and cited as justification in this case.

In April, the SPLC joined the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty’s Housing Not Handcuffs coalition to rally in support of people experiencing homelessness as the court heard oral arguments in the case.

Housing, not handcuffs, is truly the only way to end homelessness.

Image at top: Outside the Supreme Court on April 18, 2024, Andrea McChristian (fourth from left), the SPLC's director of policy research, joins members of Congress and other activists in calling for the protection of constitutional rights for people experiencing homelessness. (Credit: Theresa Lau)