Elevating Alternatives to Arrest in Response to Unsheltered Homelessness

construction of a apartment building

Unsheltered homelessness is on the rise and, without unprecedented investment in housing assistance, will continue increasing because of the COVID-19 pandemic. People forced to sleep outside—who are disproportionately Black, Native American, and Latinx because of the US’s history of systemic and structural racism in housing access, wealth accumulation, employment, criminal justice, and other systems—often have negative interactions with police, including encampment sweeps, citations, arrests, and incarceration.

Addressing homelessness through law enforcement isn’t working. People forced to endure unsheltered homelessness are often trapped in a homelessness-jail cycle, rotating in and out of jails, shelters, emergency rooms, detoxification facilities, and other emergency services. This cycle is costly and ineffective for community budgets that fund public services, and it fails to give people experiencing homelessness the help they need. The COVID-19 pandemic and the call of the Black Lives Matter movement to shift resources away from police and toward community supports have increased attention on ways to better address homelessness and keep everyone safe.

We’re elevating evidence-based strategies—rooted in the Housing First approach—that can help communities disrupt the status quo and more effectively address unsheltered homelessness, stably house people, and break the homelessness-jail cycle.

New resources

Previous work

 


 

Researchers

  • Sarah Gillespie, research director for the Urban Institute’s Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center
  • Samantha Batko, senior research associate in the Urban Institute’s Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center
  • Mary Cunningham, vice president for the Urban Institute’s Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center

Contributing experts

  • Barbara Poppe, former executive director of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness and founder and principal of Barbara Poppe & Associates
  • Stephen Metraux, director of the Center for Community Research & Service and associate professor at the Biden School of Public Policy & Administration at the University of Delaware

Policy and communications staff

  • Katrina Ballard, policy program manager for the Urban Institute’s Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center
  • Emily Peiffer, writer-editor for the Urban Institute’s Communications Office
  • Daniel Fowler, senior media relations manager for the Urban Institute’s Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center

For media inquiries, please contact media@urban.org.

 Photo by Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images