The US, where being homeless could be a crime.Pin

The US, where being homeless could be a crime.

If you missed the news last week, and with all of the Supreme Court decisions being released the last few weeks, it might have been hard to keep track of, the Court ruled that the law in Grants Pass, OR that made it illegal to sleep in a public place, was constitutional.

The majority opinion called the law one tool in the toolbox to fight homelessness.

I’m going to disagree politely. It is not a tool to fight homelessness.

Let’s talk about what we know about homelessness:

Barry’s team found that, overall, 67% of homeless people currently have some form of mental illness, while 77% were found to have experienced mental illness at least sometime during their lives.

  • Prisons are a terrible place to treat mental health conditions.
  • We know there are at least half a million homeless people in the US.
  • We also know that most Americans live paycheck to paycheck, meaning a financial emergency would impact their ability to provide necessities. (That doesn’t necessarily mean they would be homeless in that case, but many of us would be.)

Given those facts, arresting everyone experiencing homelessness is a non-starter. You will either overburden jails or overburden cities that do something other than arrest homeless people.

You could argue that the outcome will be a large number of people with mental health issues crammed into a massively overburdened prison system with almost no hope of ever getting out. (Where would they go? Back to being homeless and thus getting arrested again.)

We’ve tried that with serious mental illness, and it doesn’t work. It fixes nothing unless you think lots of people with mental health issues dying in prison is the answer. I prefer believing that most of us are not that callous and uncaring. But most of us aren’t writing these laws and upholding them. That’s for the elite few with power, and I’m not as convinced they would care about anyone with a mental health struggle because they surely don’t do much to provide resources and assistance to struggling people.

We need major reform when it comes to mental healthcare and homelessness. The two are tied together. Hiding the problem out of our sight in prisons is inhumane.

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