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New SPLC Report Documents How Georgia Laws Have Triggered a Vicious Cycle of Criminalizing Homelessness

Report combines data analysis and personal stories to reveal wide-ranging impact on thousands of Georgians 

ATLANTA — Today, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) released a new report that sheds light on the cruel practice of criminalizing homelessness at a time in which over 10,000 Georgians are reported to be experiencing homelessness across the state.  

The report, Sheltering Injustice: A Call for Georgia to Stop Criminalizing People Experiencing Homelessness, exposes the pernicious practice of criminalizing homelessness in Georgia and throughout the Deep South — and cites Georgia laws that are putting thousands of people living unsheltered at risk of arrest.  

“This report documents the root causes and lived experience of some of the thousands of people in Georgia experiencing homelessness,” said Gina Azito Thompson, policy analyst at the Southern Poverty Law Center. “The personal stories underscore the human need to prioritize this racial and disability justice issue legislatively and provide adequate housing and supportive services.” 

Cherokee, whose story is featured in the report, has been on the waiting list for housing for about five years. After being arrested while living unsheltered, she was on probation for two years and had to pay $834 in restitution. She is not the only Georgian who has experienced this obstacle. 

In many of Georgia’s jurisdictions, the populations of people who are living unsheltered are disproportionately people of color. For example, between 2017 and 2022, Black people accounted for 28% of the total population of Athens-Clarke County yet 40% of the unsheltered individual population. People experiencing homelessness are also already disproportionately represented in the criminal legal system. In Atlanta, 1 in 8 individuals booked in city jail in 2022 were experiencing homelessness.  

Laws like the one passed by the Georgia legislature in 2023 (SB 62) that force cities and towns to enforce bans on public camping punish people for simply sitting or sleeping in public places. Instead of criminalizing people for existing in public spaces, our lawmakers should take steps to discontinue this harmful practice and provide permanent housing solutions and holistic support services to people and families in need.  

The report proposes several policy recommendations, such as ensuring people with lived experience are central to efforts to combat the criminalization of those experiencing homelessness, stopping sweeping encampments and adding housing status as a measure of homelessness to the list of protected categories in relevant anti-discrimination laws. 

“We call on our legislators to end the current policies that criminalize people experiencing homelessness at all levels and to adopt new measures that protect their right to access safe and stable housing,” concluded Azito Thompson.  

Read the report HERE