Supreme Court Rules Against Unhoused People in Grants Pass Case

National Health Care for the Homeless Council Statement — June 28, 2024

The National Health Care for the Homeless Council is profoundly disappointed the U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that the practice of fining and ticketing people who sleep in public does not violate the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Obviously we strongly disagree.  

The ruling in Johnson v. Grants Pass will do nothing to solve homelessness, and do nothing to create the affordable housing needed in order to end homelessness. Instead, this decision will only make life harder for unhoused people and subject them to even higher levels of arrests when they have nowhere else to go. Today’s ruling means localities don’t even have to try to link people with services or shelter before fining or arresting them. The result is that more unsheltered people will die. 

We also acknowledge that the brunt of this ruling will not fall on unhoused people equally. Black, Brown, and Indigenous people experience homelessness in disproportionately high numbers, and they are also targeted, fined, and arrested for being present in public spaces at higher rates. Racism is a driving force in who experiences homelessness in this country, and how people of color interact with police and the courts. Forcing more stigmatized, vulnerable people into the criminal justice system compounds the deep racial injustices connected with homelessness. 

As a healthcare community, we see firsthand the harms that come from being unhoused. Not only does poor health cause homelessness, but the traumatic experience of homelessness creates new health are conditions and exacerbates existing ones. It also makes it harder to engage in critically needed medical and behavioral healthcare services. Today’s decision adds more barriers to receiving life-saving care, and makes it harder for healthcare providers to deliver that care.  

While this decision allows fines and tickets and opens the door to more arrests, it does not mandate them. Local jurisdictions have the option to focus on real solutions, like building more affordable housing and making supportive services available as needed. We call on federal, state, and local leaders to focus on housing, not fines and punishments, as a solution to homelessness. 

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