This month, the Supreme Court is expected to rule on City of Grants Pass v. Gloria Johnson—one of the most significant cases about homelessness in more than 40 years. It will effectively determine whether a local government can criminalize sleeping outside when adequate shelter is not available.

Grants Pass, a city in southwestern Oregon, argued that it should be able to fine and cite people sleeping outside. Gloria Johnson and others who have experienced homelessness in Grants Pass argued that people experiencing homelessness should be able to live in the city without accruing hundreds of dollars in fines and potential jail time for repeated offenses when they have no other option for shelter.

Unsheltered homelessness has been growing since 2015 and hit an all-time high in 2023, with 256,000 people experiencing unsheltered homelessness on a single night.

Across the country, programs and policies rooted in research have demonstrated what works to end homelessness, protect public safety, and use taxpayer dollars efficiently—and it’s not criminalization. In fact, a large body of research shows addressing homelessness through law enforcement only exacerbates the problem.

The research is clear: regardless of how the Supreme Court rules, jurisdictions cannot fine and cite their way to ending unsheltered homelessness. Here are five evidence-based approaches that could actually help jurisdictions solve the problem.

  1. Provide housing.
  2. Ensure that emergency shelter is safe and accessible for those who need it.
  3. Prioritize resources for the most vulnerable residents, including those experiencing unsheltered homelessness. 
  4. Promote inclusive public space management (PDF) for people forced to live outside while addressing the shortage of affordable housing and shelter. 
  5. Create alternative response programs. 

Read the full article about addressing unsheltered homelessness by Sarah Gillespie and Samantha Batko at Urban Institute.