North Carolina Coalition to End Homelessness

USICH Report: Searching Out Solutions - Constructive Alternatives to the Criminalization of Homelessness

The federal government has an important responsibility to provide leadership, share best practices, and provide technical support to localities in their efforts to find constructive ways of addressing the needs of individuals experiencing homelessness. Specifically, the 2009 HEARTH Act charged the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) with “develop[ing] alternatives to laws and policies that prohibit sleeping, eating, sitting, resting, or lying in public spaces when there are no suitable alternatives, result in the destruction of property belonging to people experiencing homelessness without due process, or are selectively enforced against people experiencing homelessness.” One of the strategies of Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness is to reduce criminalization of homelessness by defining constructive approaches to address street homelessness and considering incentives to urge cities to adopt these practices.
In December 2010, USICH and the Access to Justice Initiative of the U.S Department of Justice (DOJ), with support from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), held a summit on the development of constructive alternatives to the criminalization of homelessness, titled Searching for Balance: Civic Engagement in Communities Responding to Homelessness. The day-long forum resulted in several recommended alternatives to criminalization, characterized by three overarching themes:
I. Creation of Comprehensive and Seamless Systems of Care
II. Collaboration among Law Enforcement and Behavioral Health and Social Service Providers
III. Alternative Justice System Strategies
This report explores the themes and solutions that were identified at the Searching for Balance Summit. It also chronicles the experiences of several local communities in their endeavors to develop programs that treat individuals experiencing homelessness with dignity and respect, while simultaneously meeting the needs of community safety and maintaining civic order.
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