A group of Democrats plan to introduce legislation in the House to “combat the criminalization of homelessness in this commonwealth."

Pa. House and Senate Democrats decry U.S. Supreme Court ruling on homelessness

Rep. Ismail Smith-Wade-El (left), Rep. Lindsay Powell (at podium) and House Speaker Joanna McClinton (right) speak out against the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling on homelessness.

  • State

Pennsylvania state Rep. Lindsay Powell (D-Allegheny) and Democrats from the state House and Senate on Tuesday pushed back against a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that sided with a ban on homeless people sleeping outside.

“The Supreme Court’s ruling criminalizes poverty, compounding a deplorable public policy,” Powell said during a press conference in the Capitol rotunda. “And now our neighbors are confronted with a harsh reality: Remain awake or face arrest.”

In a 6-3 decision, Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in the opinion that the enforcement of local laws that regulate camping on public property does not violate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

The case originated in Grants Pass, Oregon, which argued its ordinance was a solution to the city’s homelessness crisis. The ordinance includes fines and potential jail time for repeat offenders who camp or sleep outdoors.

“This is not only a fundamental injustice, it is not only completely wrong, but in study after study, the data shows that criminalizing homelessness, sweeping encampments without care or concern has the opposite effect, that it worsens the crisis that it claims to address,” Rep. Ismail Smith-Wade-El (D-Lancaster) said.

“If indeed the goal is to reduce homelessness, especially amongst our most vulnerable populations, then what we must do is provide those people with homes now,” he continued. “If the goal is to punish people who fall on hard times and drive additional revenue to the carceral state, then the Supreme Court is doing a fantastic job.”

Smith-Wade-El and Powell are among a group of Democrats who plan to introduce legislation in the House to “combat the criminalization of homelessness in this commonwealth,” he added.

The co-sponsorship memo said the legislation would “seek to guarantee the right to be outside and the right to share in public spaces, while ensuring that local governments secure adequate low-barrier housing to accommodate the houseless population.”

Sen. Amanda Cappelletti (D-Montgomery) is among the Democrats planning to introduce a companion bill in the Senate.

“To say that arresting individuals sleeping in public places does not qualify as cruel and unusual punishment under our Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution is simply unconscionable,” Cappelletti said Tuesday. “The stunning lack of empathy and compassion demonstrated by the majority of the justices on the Supreme Court is what is cruel and unusual.”

In addition, Powell has introduced legislation to establish an Affordable Homeownership Program under the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development. House Bill 2454 would allow the program to award grants for homeownership-related projects.

She pointed to other bills in the House that would help to address Pennsylvania’s homelessness problem, including a bill from Smith-Wade-El that would seal some eviction records, and Rep. Napoleon Nelson’s (D-Montgomery) bill aimed at combating homelessness.

“The House and the Senate are committed to doing everything in our power, as you’ve heard today, to provide actual solutions, actual solutions and actual housing units,” Powell said. “These solutions do not include locking people up for sleeping.”

Thursday, July 25, 2024




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