Grant’s Pass Court Case – Op-Ed Urges Using Real Solutions to Support Homelessness 

Photo by Ev on Unsplash

By Emeline Crowder and Jocelyn Lopez 

GRANTS PASS, OR – According to an op-ed from Next City by Mandy Chapman Semple and Nathaniel Fields this month, one of the most high profile cases regarding homelessness will soon come before the Supreme Court.

The op-ed notes that the case of City of Grants Pass, Oregon v. Gloria Johnson “​​considers whether a local government can outlaw sleeping outside if adequate shelter is not accessible.”

The op-ed notes if the Supreme Court sides with the city of Grants Pass, the ruling will allow cities to “rely on punitive policies that do little to nothing to decrease homelessness and often cause worse outcomes for unhoused people in the process.”

The op-ed, however, adds that if the Supreme Court sides with Johnson, it will require local governments to “demonstrate adequate shelter is available for an individual before resorting to harsh enforcement tactics.”

No matter which side the Supreme Court rules in support of, the op-ed suggests there is still a need for governments to find an “actual solution that reduces the number of people experiencing homelessness,” while also maintaining “public safety and health by returning public spaces to everyday uses.”

To do anything less, according to the op-ed, “holds a community in limbo.”

According to the op-ed, either decision that the court makes will have “long-lasting impacts on how local governments respond to homelessness, in many ways for the worse.” The op-ed states that a ruling towards enforcement would stretch law enforcement past their ability, creating an “endless cycle of ticketing and arrests of unhoused individuals.”

For homelessness advocates, even the decision that is seen as a more favorable ruling “will shift investments away from permanent housing, which, according to the op-ed, is the “gold standard for reducing rates of homelessness,” claims the op-ed.

However, in the op-ed, Semple and Fields note New Orleans has used a “proven model for helping house residents in encampments” which has helped the city to reach “no or low unsheltered homelessness.”

Semple and Fields believe that “every city can do the same, regardless of the court’s ruling.”

Nonetheless, cities need better tools to respond to unsheltered homelessness through improved approaches, progress on the policy level and policy at a local level, the op-ed states. Semple and Fields state, adding, “Good public policy doesn’t come from the courts.”

By focusing on one encampment at a time, “bringing services on site, and drawing on the flexibility of private philanthropic resources…” allows New Orleans to respond to unsheltered homelessness, the op-ed states.

According to the op-ed, in New Orleans, 103 individuals have been housed, and two large encampments have been closed down. By responding to encampments one by one and spending “four to eight weeks with intense focus on rehousing the individuals,” more progress will be made.

Semple and Fields state in their op-ed they “work to quickly move clients directly into housing” while also giving them support to recover, and this serves to be a safety net for clients as they “navigate back to wellness and stability.”

The op-ed claims this is beneficial because it eliminates an unnecessary shelter stay, which “both saves the community money and produces far better outcomes,” noting it also benefits by shifting the focus of response away from having enough shelter beds, to ending homelessness “one individual, one encampment at a time.”

Semple and Fields also recognize the challenges that come with addressing homelessness, such as the fact that despite public resources being vital to the cause, they come with “many string attached, which can slow down the ability to rehouse people.”

In response, they created a “flex fund with private philanthropic dollars to hold units until move-in day or for one-time expenses such as application fees and move-in kits.”

With a challenging rental market, as New Orleans has seen a high rate of rental increase, Semple and Fields try to build relationships to negotiate favorable lease terms in “the multi-family rental market to secure a portfolio of units to be used for rehousing efforts.”

Semple and Fields assert specialists are onsite such as, “Street-based medical teams and addiction specialists, outreach workers, housing navigators and case managers…” to work with clients to fill out housing paperwork and secure documents needed to rehome them after unit locators negotiate leases and clients select an apartment, apply and move in.

Instead of taking months, the process takes just days or weeks and the support system of healthcare, addiction support, and case management follow the clients into housing, state Semple and Fields.

With the engagement changing, the clients are more willing to say yes and interact with the team as “clients readily participate and allow us to support them through an intense process,” according to the op-ed, that notes it has witnessed clients seeking treatment immediately after being housed, as safety and security is guaranteed.

In their op-ed, Semple and Fields believe no one should have to live outside nor does a community want the vulnerable to suffer, writing with “the right tools, partnerships, and resources in place, it’s possible to tackle this immense challenge and deliver meaningful results.”

The op-ed concludes that politicians and policymakers can respond to community concerns on public safety while humanely responding to homelessness, arguing, “We do not have to choose one over the other.”

About The Author

Emeline is a third year undergraduate at UC Davis, studying International Relations and French. She is passionate about law, the criminal justice system and international politics, and hopes to pursue a career in diplomacy in the future. In her free time, Emeline loves to read, craft and hike.

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