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SPLC Urges U.S. Supreme Court to Affirm the Rights of People Experiencing Homelessness

WASHINGTON — Today, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) joined the National Homelessness Law Center’s Housing Not Handcuffs coalition to rally in support of people experiencing homelessness as the U.S Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of Johnson v. Grants Pass.  

The case, originally filed in 2018, is expected to be the most significant ruling on issues impacting homeless individuals in America in over four decades and will determine whether criminally punishing people for sleeping outdoors on public property when they have nowhere else to go violates the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishments. The SPLC submitted an amicus brief to the Supreme Court in support of respondents. 

“Our nation has a dark historic legacy of punishing people of color for being poor, particularly Black communities and indigenous people. If the policy of Grants Pass is upheld, we will return to that horrendous reality,” said Efrén Olivares, director of strategic litigation and advocacy at the SPLC. “What the Supreme Court decides in this case will say a lot about what kind of country we are and what country we want to be. We demand a future without policies like the one before the Court and a government that instead works to ensure that the right to affordable housing is guaranteed for all.”  

“As we detail in our amicus brief, we’re seeing similar situations that mimic the argument of Grants Pass in states like Florida and Georgia, where legislation is being passed that bans camping or sleeping on public property even if people have no indoor alternatives,” said Kirsten Anderson, deputy legal director for economic justice at the SPLC. “This is unfortunate because many families in our country are just one paycheck away from experiencing homelessness and have minimal or no options of finding shelter. If they are facing possible arrest, this could trigger a detrimental domino effect through the criminal justice system.” 

Today’s rally at the Supreme Court demonstrates widespread support for the rights of people experiencing homelessness and highlights the urgent need for a shift from criminalization to compassionate, effective, housing-first policy solutions.