Policies that administer penalties such as jail time and fines to folks living outside in our cities are rising nationally. With both local and federal leaders currently reviewing punitive homelessness strategies, this month is a crucial time for advocates to speak out about better solutions. Our coalition commits to championing empathetic and efficient policy solutions in our region. Rather than punishing households that have been most impacted by our affordable housing shortage, we want to see human-centered solutions to homelessness. Putting housing at the forefront of our region’s strategy would not only center the needs of those experiencing unsheltered homelessness but unlike punitive policies, is a strategy that has proven to work. Recent success in Houston and New Orleans can be a road map for how our region can address the impacts of public encampments while centering the needs and choices of people experiencing homelessness.

In Houston, housing is at the center of their approach to addressing public encampments. If the city removes an encampment, the removal is performed after weeks of street outreach and planning so the city can ensure those who are being displaced have an opportunity to access housing if wanted. Since 2021, Houston has decommissioned more than 90 encampments, home to 600 individuals, with around 90% of them going into housing. Without adequate systems for transitioning folks into housing with the services they need, our region will continue to waste precious resources enforcing camping bans without addressing an individual’s needs.

After seeing a nearly 50% increase in homelessness in the past few years, New Orleans followed in Houston’s footsteps – implementing the same housing-focused framework. Their strategy holds the same core principle of prioritizing housing rather than shelter stays. Service providers spend four to eight weeks at one encampment to identify each person’s needs to transition into stable housing. New Orleans has been able to decommission camps of up to 50 people by connecting folks to permanent housing.

New Orleans and Houston have also eliminated unnecessary shelter stays, both saving the community money and more efficiently connecting people to housing. While both New Orleans and Houston have a more affordable housing market to connect people to, the Portland Metro Region has something neither of these cities has – hundreds of millions in local funding earmarked for homelessness services. In 2020, voters in the Portland Metro Region committed to helping people experiencing or at risk of homelessness by passing a 1% marginal tax on high-income earners. 

 This is a crucial time to advocate for better solutions. On April 22nd, the Supreme Court is set to hear Johnson V. Grants Pass, a watershed case that will decide whether jurisdictions may legally enforce fees and jail time in areas where the number of people experiencing homelessness is greater than the shelter beds available. Together, with local partners and advocates across the nation, Welcome Home Coalition signed on to an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court supporting the rights of unhoused people in City of Grants Pass, Oregon v. Johnson.  

Locally, the City of Portland is also considering a revised daytime camping ban on Wednesday, April 24th.  It’s time to commit to what works. Join us, along with other advocates across the nation, in asking City of Portland leaders to advance real solutions to homelessness instead of passing a criminalization ordinance. If you are attending our summit, we will also write postcards to the Portland City Council asking our leaders to invest time and resources into what we know works!