July 8, 2016

Who We Are



Who is involved in the campaign?

Housing Not Handcuffs was initiated by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty and the National Coalition for the Homelessand more than 100 participating organizations, including groups that don’t commonly work together, such as:

  • Housing groups pushing for greater access to affordable housing;
  • Homelessness groups pushing for homeless services and rights;
  • Civil rights groups;
  • Criminal and juvenile justice reform groups;
  • Organizations supporting children and youth;
  • Smart government groups; and more!

It’s time for housing, not handcuffs.

Across the country, cities are criminalizing homelessness, making it illegal for people to sit, sleep, and even eat in public places—despite the absence of housing or even shelter, and other basic resources.

These laws and policies violate constitutional rights, create arrest records and fines & fees that stand in the way of homeless people getting jobs or housing, and don’t work. The evidence is clear that homelessness is reduced in communities that focus on housing, and not those that focus on handcuffs.

Criminalization of homelessness costs more money than simply solving the problem by ensuring access to adequate housing. 

And there is a growing awareness among the general public that our criminal justice system is not the solution to social problems.

The time is right for a national campaign to stop the criminalization of homelessness—and to push for effective housing policies that end homelessness.

How did the campaign start?

In 2015, as criminalization increased across the country, advocates gathered to strategize at two national events:  A Forum hosted by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty  in Washington, D.C., and a Summit hosted by the National Coalition for the Homeless in Denver.

At the same time, after years of advocacy by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, the federal government took critical steps against the criminalization of homelessness in 2015.

Key Federal Initiatives in 2015
  • The U.S. Department of Justice filed a brief in a case fighting a camping ban in Boise, ID, stating criminalizing homelessness is unconstitutional, and its Office of Community Oriented Policing Services stated “Arresting people for performing basic life-sustaining activities like sleeping in public takes law enforcement professionals away from what they are trained to do: fight crime.”
  • The U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness issued guidance saying evicting homeless encampments without providing adequate alternative housing is never appropriate.
  • The U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development inserted a new question into its application for a $2 billion grant program giving local governments and organizations higher scores if they demonstrate they are preventing the criminalization of homelessness.

Advocates from the National Forum and the Denver Summit joined together to help develop the Housing Not Handcuffs Campaign to build on this new momentum.

The campaign has developed strategies around litigationpolicy, advocacycommunications, and grassroots organizing in order to strategically change local, state, and federal laws and practices that are not working.