Advocating for Person-Centered Responses to Homelessness

Using punitive measures to respond to homelessness, such as arresting and/or fining people who sleep outside, is not a new approach. However, laws that punish those who have no other place to go have steadily increased in recent years at both the local and state levels. These out-of-sight, out-of-mind approaches are not only inhumane and counterproductive, but they are expensive and do nothing to address the real drivers of homelessness: a severe lack of affordable housing and accessible supportive services.

What Makes a Bad Bill

Instead of promoting evidence-based approaches and investing in long-term solutions, these state and local legislative actions often include one or more of the following harmful elements:

Implementing a statewide camping ban, which results in fines or arrests if people experiencing homelessness violate this ban. The ban must be enforced by jurisdictions within the state; if states do not enforce it, their homelessness funding is threatened.
Diverting funds away from evidence-based solutions to short-term, high-barrier strategies that screen out those with the highest level of need.
Lowering the criteria associated with the involuntary commitment of people with substance use disorders or mental health conditions.
Ramping up the role that law enforcement agencies play in homelessness outreach.

Although more bills are being introduced that include these elements and more, advocates across the country are working hard to combat their passage – and more often than not, these advocates are winning. From statewide coalitions to frontline service providers who are using their voice to push back, people across the country are strategically and collaboratively working to protect the civil rights of people experiencing homelessness and advance evidence-based practices.

The Alliance, along with partners at the National Homelessness Law Center, the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, and the National Coalition for the Homeless, are working closely with advocates from across the country to learn about the threats and the strategies they are using to fight back. The Alliance is also partnering with advocates in several states including Tennessee, Kansas, Kentucky, Arizona, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Oklahoma to directly support their local efforts to combat emerging bills.

The Importance of Local Advocacy

From these efforts, the Alliance has compiled a repository of these messaging, mobilization, outreach, and legislative strategies that can be replicated and deployed in communities facing similar threats. In addition, the Alliance is releasing two additional resources that can be used in local advocacy efforts to educate state and local legislators about the effectiveness of the Housing First approach. These resources emphasize the need to not only scale up housing, but scale up services in order to have real, long-term solutions to preventing and ending homelessness.

In the weeks and months ahead, the Alliance will be releasing more guidance and tools to support local and statewide advocacy efforts to push back against the growing threats. Your voice is important, and our voices together can and will make a difference.