MCAH Statement on SCOTUS Ruling City of Grants Pass v. Johnson


Press Release

Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness is disheartened to learn of the
Supreme Court decision in favor of the defendant, The City of Grants Pass,

The case focused on ‘Whether the enforcement of generally applicable laws
regulating camping on public property constitutes ‘cruel and unusual
punishment” prohibited by the Eighth Amendment.” In response to the
homelessness crisis in Grants Pass, Oregon, the municipality implemented a
local ordinance imposing steep fines on anyone sleeping on city land with a
pillow or a blanket, even though there were no adequate shelter alternatives

Policing people in public spaces who have nowhere else to engage in
essential life sustaining activities, such as sleeping, is inhumane and only
exacerbates the barriers faced by the most vulnerable in our communities.
These ordinances are reminiscent of our country’s shameful history enacting
“black codes” during the Reconstruction Era, which generally prohibited
“loitering and vagrancy”. In the 1860s, this set of laws were explicitly used
to surveil and control the everyday actions of freed African Americans and
impede upon their participation in society.

Moreover, the over-policing of unhoused people today disproportionately
harms people of color, as they are more likely to experience homelessness,
be searched, and cited. Ultimately, these law and order practices exacerbate
racial inequality in the criminal justice system.

Being unhoused is not a personal choice, rather, it’s a consequence of policy
decisions that deprioritize basic human needs in exchange for preserving
economic interests. Furthermore, criminalization ignores the structural
causes that lead people to become unhoused and have proven to be
antithetical to supporting those forced to live their lives outside in the richest
country in the world.

As researchers Colburn and Aldern report, the only significant indicator of
rising rates of homelessness are the cost of rent and the rate of rent burden
placed on tenants in proportion to their income. Relatedly, The Government
Accountability Office (GAO) report from 2020 found that a median rent
increase of $100 per month is associated with a 9% increase in rates of
homelessness in the same area.

The energy and financial investment required to enforce, displace, or jail a
person for living outside would be better channeled into proactive policy
solutions. On average, it costs taxpayers $31,065 per year to criminalize
someone experiencing homelessness, compared to the cost of providing
someone with housing, $10,051. Our communities need dignified and
innovative responses to the affordable housing crisis, expansion of street
outreach programs, extra support and resources, and adequate interim
shelter options.

Despite the outcome and ruling, municipalities are not compelled to enact
harmful and punitive policies targeting those who lack housing. MCAH urges
advocates and allies of fair housing to reject the Supreme Court’s decision
and take a stand for the rights of your unhoused neighbors. We encourage everyone to amplify the call for a close examination of our shared humanity and the recognition that so many of us are only one misfortune away from finding ourselves without a safe place to call home.


“This ruling is a heartbreaking display of the dehumanization of our unhoused neighbors. It is unconscionable to criminalize people who are simply trying to survive and sleeping outside when they have nowhere else to go.”


Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (MI-12)