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Johnson v. Grants Pass Communications Toolkit

March 29, 2024

This resource aims to provide leaders of Built for Zero with communications tools about the Johnson v. Grants Pass Supreme Court case.

Please contact comms@community.solutions with any questions.


This is the most important Supreme Court case about homelessness in 40 years.

Grants Pass, Oregon, is like many cities in America in that it has no welcoming shelter beds and is also thousands of housing units short of what is needed.

This case is simple: can cities that fail to meet everybody’s basic needs of housing or shelter punish people with no choice but to sleep outside for using things like blankets or pillows?

The outcome will determine whether the United States will be a country that fines or arrests people for experiencing homelessness or a country that invests in solutions that ensure everyone has a safe, decent, and affordable home.

We aim to use this case as a national inflection point to refocus the conversation on true solutions to homelessness, such as housing and services.


Topline Messages

Arresting and fining people for sleeping on the streets is ineffective, keeps people homeless for longer, and distracts from real solutions like those we see working in communities across the country. 

  • Ineffective: Arresting or fining a person does not solve their housing problem. 
  • Keeps people homeless longer: 
    • Fines and fees make it harder to access employment, housing, and social services.
    • Criminal charges impact people’s eligibility for social services and housing programs. 
    • Property confiscation during encampment leads to the loss of documents essential for obtaining housing, employment, and insurance (birth certificates and identification). 
  • An expensive way to not solve homelessness. Studies show arresting and incarcerating homeless people is far more expensive than providing permanent supportive housing. 
  • Distracts from solutions.

There are alternatives to arresting people that communities can act on now. 

  • Cities are seeing progress using approaches similar to those taken during a public health crisis or disaster.
    • They create a command center – A collaborative, community-wide team that is accountable and working together regardless of their department or organization. They conduct comprehensive outreach with navigation into housing. 
    • They use data to understand the problem. Creating real-time, by-name data on who is experiencing homelessness is the best way to continuously track progress and improve system performance. A USA Today story said court filings from Grants Pass cite anywhere from 50 to 600 people experiencing homelessness in the community. You can’t solve a problem you can’t see. 
    • Based on data, the community makes data-driven investments at scale. 
      • Investments in the short to get people off the streets and into safety. 
      • Investments in long-term infrastructure at scale to ensure that homelessness is rare and brief in their community
      • Investment in mental and behavioral health

Beyond Boise: Proven Solutions to Homelessness Exist Outside of Criminalization 

The communities that are seeing progress have a shared methodology that has led to their reductions in homelessness, despite increases across the nation. 

  • Shared Goal: Every stakeholder aligns around the shared objective to drive homelessness toward zero, by moving people into permanent housing.
  • Command Center that Shares Accountability: Key agencies, like the Continuum of Care, the housing authority, local government, and the VA, work together every week toward the shared goal of making homelessness rare, brief, and nonrecurring.
    • This includes collaborative case conferencing with the overarching aim of securing permanent housing for individuals experiencing homelessness.
  • Real-time, By-Name Data: Informed decision-making is facilitated by having up-to-date, by-name data, ensuring a clear understanding of the local homeless population.
  • Comprehensive Outreach with Housing Navigation: Sufficient outreach staffing to cover the full geography in order to capture real-time data and help individuals navigate into permanent housing.

Communities we see taking this approach and seeing measurable progress. The real question is: If we know what works, why are we not doing it?

Over Policing Policy Brief 

Background: This policy brief investigates the involvement of the police in responses to homelessness in cities across the country. It amasses a wide array of data, including a novel survey of mayors and details of Homeless Outreach Teams from the nation’s 100 largest cities.

Advocates and researchers agree that solutions to homelessness must address the root causes. Communities need to increase access to quality, affordable permanent housing, and they must provide the necessary social and medical services to support unhoused people remaining stably housed. 

Yet, local governments may not always follow these evidence-based housing policy programs, instead pursuing punitive policing or the criminalization of homelessness. Such policies do not end homelessness; instead, they may actually promote cycles of homelessness.

This policy brief shows that the police are frequently involved in implementing homelessness policy, with findings such as:

  • Cities’ police departments are highly influential in homelessness policy-making. Seventy-eight percent of mayors say that the police have at least some influence over their homelessness policies — more than people experiencing homelessness and public housing authorities.
  • City staff dedicated to homelessness are commonly located in police departments. Twenty-two percent of mayors housed their homelessness staff in police departments, the second most popular option after social services (38%).
  • Homeless Outreach Teams (HOTs) are frequently either housed in police departments or include formal roles for police officers. Seventy-six percent of HOTs in the nation’s 100 largest cities formally involved the police.
  • A majority of HOTs (59%) include enforcement of civil or criminal infractions or quality of life crimes, as a goal or mission; 43% include encampment removal (including removal of persons and belongings). HOTs featuring police involvement are far more likely to have a dedicated enforcement goal (75% of police-involved HOTs compared to 12.5% of HOTs without designated police involvement).

Built for Zero Community Survey

Background: Community Solutions is committed to lifting up the voices of those providing services to people experiencing homelessness. In early March, we surveyed communities in the Built for Zero network. We heard back from 170 leaders across our communities.

Prominent themes:

When asked what has worked best in your community to reduce the number of people experiencing unsheltered homelessness:

  • 79% said coordinating between systems like the VA, Housing Authority, Continuum of Care, behavioral health, etc.
  • 78% said having affordable and supportive housing available
  • 76% said social services focused on street outreach and assessing individuals to find out what services they need
  • 72% said a coordinated local strategy with everyone working together

One leader told us they stopped using punitive interventions ten years ago and started investing in temporary and permanent housing options. Since then, homelessness has declined in their community. 

When asked about the impact of ticketing, arrests, or other criminalization actions to address homelessness:

  • 91% said it was traumatic and stigmatizing for individuals who are unhoused
  • 83% said individuals ended up with criminal backgrounds that made it harder to get jobs and housing
  • 76% said individuals experiencing homelessness lost important documents and paperwork (birth certificates, IDs) which are essential for obtaining housing and employment
  • 76% said they lost the trust of individuals they were trying to connect to treatment or services


Please use the included links in all posts.

If you choose to develop your own messaging, please include the hashtags #HomelessnessIsSolvable and #JohnsonVGrantsPass. You can also tag @cmtysolutions or @BuiltForZero.

Graphics

Download the graphics below and include them in your posts:

Twitter

👩‍⚖️ #JohnsonVGrantsPass asks: can cities that fail to meet everybody’s basic needs of housing or shelter punish people with no choice but to sleep outside? As a @BuiltForZero community, we know what it takes to solve homelessness — and the answer is never criminalization. Learn more: https://bit.ly/3xmp8dv 

#SCOTUS’s decision on #JohnsonVGrantsPass matters ⚖️ 
As a @BuiltForZero community, we know what it takes to solve homelessness: focusing on proven solutions, like housing and supportive services, instead of imposing penalties. 🙌  https://bit.ly/3xmp8dv

🚨 URGENT: #SCOTUS to hear #JohnsonVGrantsPass, the most important case about homelessness in 40 years. We’re taking this moment to advocate for proven solutions to homelessness, like:

✅shared aim

✅collaborative team

✅by-name data 

✅racial equity focus 

✅Investments in housing https://bit.ly/3xmp8dv

Arresting people for sleeping on the streets only keeps people homeless for longer. And it distracts from real solutions like those we see working in our community. #HomelessnessIsSolvable
#JohnsonVGrantsPass https://bit.ly/3xmp8dv

#JohnsonVGrantsPass is the most important case about homelessness in 40 years. As #SCOTUS gears up for the Apr 22 hearing, learn the facts. There are alternatives to arresting people that our community is acting on now. #HomelessnessIsSolvable https://bit.ly/3xmp8dv

🚫🛌 Arrests and fines don’t solve homelessness — they extend it. Our community is focusing on proven solutions instead. 💡🏠 #JohnsonVGrantsPass goes before #SCOTUS on April 22. Learn more: https://bit.ly/3xmp8dv / ⚖️🗓️

Facebook/LinkedIn/Instagram

👩‍⚖️ #JohnsonVGrantsPass is simple: can cities that fail to meet everybody’s basic needs of housing or shelter punish people with no choice but to sleep outside using things like blankets or pillows? 

🗣️ The outcome will determine whether the United States will be a country that fines or arrests people for experiencing homelessness or a country that invests in solutions that ensure everyone has a safe, decent, and affordable home.  
As a Built for Zero community, we know what it takes to solve homelessness — and the answer is never criminalization. Learn more: https://bit.ly/3xmp8dv

Arresting or fining people experiencing homelessness isn’t just ineffective; it worsens the issue. 🚫 

On April 22, the Supreme Court hears arguments in #JohnsonVGrantsPass. ⚖️

We must shift from punitive measures to long-term, effective solutions. Across the nation, communities are demonstrating that homelessness is solvable with the right approach. 🏘️ 
As a Built for Zero community, we know what it takes to solve homelessness: focusing on proven solutions, like housing and supportive services, instead of imposing penalties. 🙌 #HomelessnessIsSolvable Learn more: https://bit.ly/3xmp8dv

🚨 URGENT: The Supreme Court is set to hear #JohnsonVGrantsPass, a case that challenges the practice of criminalizing individuals for sleeping outdoors, even if there’s nowhere else for them to go. 

We’re taking this moment to advocate for change and push for proven solutions to homelessness, like:

✅A shared goal

✅ A command center that shares accountability

✅ Comprehensive, real-time, by-name data on who is experiencing homelessness 

✅A racial equity focus 

✅ Investments to address a nationwide shortage of safe, deeply affordable homes

 Learn more: https://bit.ly/3xmp8dv

#JohnsonVGrantsPass is the most important Supreme Court case about homelessness in 40 years.

Grants Pass, Oregon, is like many cities in America in that it has no welcoming shelter beds and is also thousands of housing units short of what is needed. 

This case is simple: can cities that fail to meet everybody’s basic needs of housing or shelter punish people with no choice but to sleep outside for using things like blankets or pillows? 

As the Supreme Court prepares for the April 22 hearing, it’s important to remind everyone: there’s a better way. 

There are alternatives to arresting people that our community is acting on now. 
We know what it takes to solve homelessness — and the answer is never criminalization. https://bit.ly/3xmp8dv

Arresting and fining people for sleeping on the streets is ineffective and keeps people homeless for longer. 🚫💤

Rather than punishing individuals without housing options, our community is embracing solutions that have shown real success in solving homelessness. 💡🏠
Join us in advocating for change as #JohnsonVGrantsPass heads to the Supreme Court on April 22. Get informed here: https://bit.ly/3xmp8dv  ⚖️🗓️ #HomelessnessIsSolvable


This document is for communities that want to leverage earned media to join the national campaign to combat harmful narratives about homelessness and advocate for data-driven solutions.
Please contact Lauren Barnes with any questions at lbarnes@community.solutions.

Proactive Earned Media Plan

  • Create a proactive media plan to elevate your work and advocate for data-driven solutions:
    • Review national key messages to combat harmful narratives about homelessness and advocate for data-driven solutions 
    • Write localized key messages that:
      • Provide broader context about local homeless response system efforts to measurable and equitable solve homelessness 
      • Highlight the community’s progress on solving homelessness (examples: population-level reductions, sustaining functional zero, achieving real-time, by-name data, joining Built for Zero, etc.)
      • Outline the solutions that communities can take now to humanely solve homelessness 
    • Identify and equip community-wide spokespeople with key messages
      • Reporters will often want more than one source for their story. Have a main spokesperson for the results, but work with your homelessness response team to see who else can do interviews and reinforce the key messages. 
      • Here are media tips and best practices 
    • Create a targeted media contact list with reporters who have worked with your organization before, cover homelessness in your community, or are   general news reporters. 
    • Send individualized email media pitches to the reporters pitching your spokespeople to provide local context for the Johnson v. Grants Pass SCOTUS case. Strong media pitches include:
    • As news stories come out, share them with your improvement team and on your website, social media, and email newsletters as appropriate. 
  • Have a protocol for responding to inbound media requests. In addition to having an affirmative media plan, it’s important to have policies and protocols in place for how to engage with the media when they reach out to staff for interview requests on their own.

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