Housing is a human right. While three-quarters of Americans agree that housing is a human right, and an increasing number of elected officials are addressing it as such, our country has not put in place the policies to ensure that right, and as a consequence, millions of Americans experience homelessness in a national crisis that gets worse each year. Many people experiencing homelessness have no choice but to live outside, yet cities routinely punish or harass unhoused people for their presence in public places. Nationwide, people without housing are ticketed, arrested, and jailed under laws that treat their life-sustaining conduct—such as sleeping or sitting down—as civil or criminal offenses. In addition, cities routinely displace homeless people from public spaces without providing any permanent housing alternatives.
This report—the only national report of its kind—provides an overview of laws in effect across the country that punish homelessness. With the assistance of the law firms Dechert LLP, Sullivan & Cromwell, and Kirkland & Ellis, the Law Center examined the city codes of 187 urban and rural cities across the country. Through online research, we identifi ed laws that restrict or prohibit different categories of conduct performed by homeless people, including sleeping, sitting or lying down, and living in vehicles within public space. We refer to these policies and their enforcement collectively as the “criminalization of homelessness,” even though these laws are punishable as both criminal and civil offenses.