Democrats Look to Block Criminalization of Homelessness

Democrats Look to Block Criminalization of Homelessness

Last Updated on April 3, 2024

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY, and 18 other Democrats filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court against the criminalization of the homeless.

The group of Democrats argue that the homeless have no choice and should not be arrested or fined as it is allegedly unconstitutional and will cycle them into a loop of poverty, reported The Hill.

“Punishing poverty traps people in cycles of debt, unemployment, and hopelessness, increasing the likelihood someone will become chronically homeless, which makes the problem worse for everyone and therefore serves no legitimate penological purpose,” states the amicus.

Progressive Democrats have been fighting for “people’s housing” since 2020.

While the members of Congress signing here agree that the political branches have at least partially failed homeless Americans by turning away from their historical role in ensuring broad access to affordable housing, this Court has never permitted a local government to inflict pain on its own innocent residents for the deliberate purpose of running them off and making them someone else’s burden.

The Hill reported that this brief was ahead of Johnson v. City of Grants Pass, which would decide whether local authorities could criminalize living outdoors even when shelter is unavailable.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against local governments fining or arresting people for sleeping outdoors when shelter is unavailable due to the Eight Amendment, which protects against “cruel and unusual punishments,” according to The Hill.

In the aforementioned Grants Pass, Oregon case, local officials wish for the right to arrest and jail the homeless, citing crime, drug overdoses and fires.

Theane Evangelis, a lawyer for Grant Pass, stated in a release that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’s “decisions are legally wrong and have tied the hands of local governments as they work to address the hands of local governments as they work to address the urgent homelessness crisis … The tragedy is that these decisions are actually harming the very people they purport to protect.”

Grant Pass has received support from officials in Phoenix, San Francisco, 20 Republican state attorneys general and even California Gov. Gavin Newsom, D,. They said the case must go to the Supreme Court as their hands, under the current law, are tied, reported The Hill.

However, the 19 Democrats argue in their brief that homelessness rocketed in the 1980s after housing disinvestment worsened. The Hill reported they also claim criminalizing homelessness will heavily impact black and brown, youth, the elderly, the disabled and the LGBTQ+ community.

Grant Pass sees a large population of homeless people—advocates against criminalization attempt to set up these refuge camps.

According to brief, it supports these claims, citing that 37% of the adult homeless population is black and 28% Hispanic. Almost 40% of the 4.2 million homeless youths are LGBTQ+. The Hill also notes that the group asserts blacks and Hispanics are the most likely to receive citations.

The amicus was signed by Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Ed Markey, Mass., and Elizabeth Warren, Mass., along with Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, NY, Jamaal Bowman, NY, Nydia Velázquez, NY, Summer Lee, Pa., Ayanna Pressley, Mass., Rashida Tlaib, Mich., Shri Thanedar, Mich., Gwen Moore, Wisc., André Carson, Ind., Pramila Jayapal, Wash., Sylvia Garcia, Texas, Delia Ramirez, Ill., Barbara Lee, Calif., Linda Sanchez, Calif., and Ro Khanna, Calif.

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These Democrats are calling for investments into solving the poverty and homelessness problem. It may be in good faith, but the reality may be less fruitful.

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