HUD Threatens to Withhold Aid Money to Cities that Criminalize Homelessness

Tuesday, September 29, 2015
LAPD officers arrest homeless woman who was sleeping on a sidewalk (photo: Damian Dovarganes, AP)

The Obama administration through its lead housing authority is threatening to deny local governments federal funds for adopting ordinances that criminalize homelessness.


The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has targeted nearly $2 billion in annual grants to local Continuums of Care, public-private partnerships that address homelessness, which officials may withhold if a city or county has outlawed such things as panhandling on sidewalks or sleeping in public spaces.


The Obama administration contends such local ordinances are unconstitutional because they violate the Eighth Amendment protections against cruel and unusual punishment.


Those seeking federal Continuums of Care funding “will have to show they are engaging with local policymakers or law enforcement about criminalization policies, as well as implementing new community plans to ensure homelessness is not criminalized,” Scott Keyes wrote at ThinkProgress. “Failing to combat such ordinances will hurt a Continuum of Care’s chances of winning new funds.”


Anti-homeless laws have been growing in number in some states. In Washington the total has increased more than 50% since 2000, reported researchers at the Seattle University School of Law. California has more than 500 such ordinances, and those are on the books in 58 cities alone, according to a recent UC Berkeley law school study.


“Criminalization of homelessness is already more expensive than providing housing, but those costs—from keeping people in jail to increased emergency room visits—are often hidden,” Eric Tars, senior attorney at the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, said in a press release. “When added to the potential costs of losing litigation, there’s really no reason for communities to ignore the overwhelming data that shows housing is more effective than criminalization.”

-Noel Brinkerhoff, Danny Biederman


To Learn More:

Criminalizing Homelessness Can Now Cost Cities Federal Money (by Scott Keyes, ThinkProgress)

The Cost of Criminalizing Homelessness Just Went Up by $1.9 Billion (National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty)

58 California Cities Have Anti-Homeless Laws (by Ken Broder, AllGov)


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