Reducing the criminalization of Homelessness

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The dire shortage of housing affordable to extremely poor people and the chronic shortage of even emergency shelter mean that many people have no other choice but to struggle with living in public places streets, parks, abandoned buildings, and woods. According to HUD’s own data, over 30 percent of all homeless people nationally are unsheltered; each night families and individuals seeking shelter are turned away.

But instead of addressing the affordable housing crisis, many cities are making it a crime to sleep, sit and even eat in public places, as documented in a recent report by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty. Criminalizing homelessness is very ineffective and also expensive: research even shows that it is more expensive than ending it through housing.

Recently, HUD took important steps to reduce criminalization, with incentives to communities that compete for funding from the agency, and early signs are that they are having a positive impact of city policies.

On the other end of the criminalization cycle, public and private landlords often use criminal records as a way to disqualify applicants for housing often without considering whether they have any logical connection to whether the person would be a good tenant. As a result, many people including those who have been criminally punished for their homelessness are unfairly excluded from housing. This can deepen their poverty and push some into homelessness, where they are subjected to criminalization, in a vicious downward cycle.

Recently, HUD issued guidance prohibiting widespread bans on housing access based on criminal records. Properly implemented and enforced, it will help open up housing options for people who might otherwise be unfairly excluded, helping them to successfully re-enter their communities. To end and prevent homelessness, these positive steps should continue.

Newly confirmed HUD Secretary, Ben Carson will have an enormous challenge and opportunity to positively affect millions of lives. We all will have to continue being an involved part to the solution to remain an important difference in the lives of those who continue to fight with the struggles of getting affordable housing.

Here at Project WeHope we have several programs to assist our clients into becoming housed. Our case managers handle the transition of our homeless clients into permanent housing from our Transitional Housing Program. We also offer a program that guides them through skills that they can use to get hired soon and become stable in the job market through our H.O.P.E Jobs program. We also have a mobile service call Dignity on Wheels that enhances the hygiene and cleanliness of clothing for unsheltered homeless individuals. That’s some of the ways how we help and find out how you can help us and join the cause by contacting us at or giving us a call at 650-330-8000.