Public Justice Files Amicus Brief With Social Scientists in Support of the Rights of Homeless People in Landmark Supreme Court Case

Public Justice Files Amicus Brief With Social Scientists in Support of the Rights of Homeless People in Landmark Supreme Court Case

Public Justice Media Contact:
Nicole Funaro nfunaro@publicjustice.net 203-435-1722

Public Justice Partner Media Contact:
Chris Herring cherring@soc.ucla.edu 703-380-3870

Public Justice Joins Law Enforcement Associations, Faith-Based Organizations, Medical Professionals, Legal Experts, Academic Leaders, Advocates, and Members of Congress to Urge an End to the Criminalization of Homelessness

Washington, D.C. , April 3, 2024 — Public Justice proudly announced today that it has submitted an amicus brief on behalf of 57 social scientists with peer-reviewed research on homelessness in support of the plaintiffs in the upcoming landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Grants Pass v. Johnson.

Grants Pass v. Johnson is the most important case regarding homelessness in the past 40 years. It will address the critical issue of whether laws punishing homeless individuals for sleeping outdoors with basic protections such as a pillow or blanket—when no safe and accessible shelter options are available—are violations of the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which protects against excessive bail, fines, and cruel and unusual punishment.

In filing on behalf of more than 50 researchers, Public Justice joins the National Homelessness Law Center (NHLC) and a broad array of over one thousand organizations and public leaders who have submitted nearly 40 amicus briefs in solidarity with the rights of homeless individuals across the U.S. The brief draws on over 50 academic studies, summarizing the latest social scientific research on the impact of laws regulating homelessness in public space.

“Imagine it being illegal for unsheltered people to cover themselves with a blanket on a 20-degree night when they have no choice but to sleep outside on public property. Grants Pass punished people for exactly that,” said Jacquelyn Oesterblad, Skadden Fellow for Public Justice’s Debtors’ Prison Project. “As it stands now, Grants Pass’s severe penalties will not decrease homelessness. They will instead prolong homelessness, saddle society’s most vulnerable with unpayable debts, and engender needless suffering rather than spurring public good.”

“Although anti-homeless ordinances like the those in Grants Pass may be politically popular, they fail to accomplish the goals lawmakers purport to have,” said Chris Herring, Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of California Los Angeles, who worked with Public Justice on its amicus brief. “Research consistently finds that the enforcement of anti-homeless laws not only fails to reduce homelessness in public space beyond a few blocks, but traps people in homelessness longer, exacerbates individual and public health conditions, and increases people’s vulnerability to crime and violence, all while creating numerous barriers to shelter, treatment, jobs, and housing.”

Currently, more than 600,000 people in America experience homelessness on any given night, with nearly half—250,000—sleeping outside. Data from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development shows a rise in homelessness for both sheltered and unsheltered individuals in nearly every state. The primary cause of the record levels of homelessness we see today is the unaffordable housing market, according to research from the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies.

“This case challenges us to face the reality that using things like jails and fines do nothing to solve homelessness and actually make homelessness worse” said Jesse Rabinowitz, campaign and communications director for NHLC. “Punishing our neighbors who have no choice but to sleep outside pushes them further into poverty and makes it harder to secure work and housing. The overwhelming support from a diverse array of organizations that we see in these amicus briefs underscores the need for our elected officials at every level of government to solve homelessness with housing and support, not make homelessness worse by using jail cells and bulldozers.”

Below is an excerpt from Public Justice’s amicus brief filed on behalf of dozens of researchers:

“The enforcement of laws criminalizing homelessness has been shown to have wide-ranging and lingering negative impacts on those experiencing homelessness, which create significant barriers to exiting homelessness…Anti-homeless laws like the scheme in Grants Pass serve no penological purpose. Research consistently shows that the enforcement of anti-homeless laws fails to deter any behavior or to sustainably accomplish the goals lawmakers purport to have.”


Public Justice takes on the biggest systemic threats to justice of our time—abusive corporate power and predatory practices, the assault on civil rights and liberties, and the destruction of the earth’s sustainability. We connect high-impact litigation with strategic communications and the strength of our partnerships to fight these abusive and discriminatory systems and win social and economic justice. The Debtors’ Prison Project at Public Justice fights the criminalization of poverty. For more information, visit www.publicjustice.net.


The National Homelessness Law Center (NHLC) is at the forefront of the fight against homelessness in America. Our mission is to fearlessly advance federal, state and local policies to prevent and end homelessness while fiercely defending the rights of all unhoused persons. We work to shape and advance policies at the federal, state, and local levels aimed at preventing and ultimately ending homelessness. By fostering partnerships, influencing policy, and mobilizing communities, the NHLC is dedicated to transforming how society addresses homelessness, striving for a future where everyone has a place to call home. Learn more at homelesslaw.org.

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