Presentation Minutes

National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty -

  • Tristia Bauman, senior attorney
  • Organization around for 30 years - only national legal organization dedicated to ending homelessness using the law
  • My area of focus is the criminalization of homelessness - referring to policies and practice that punish homeless people for doing live activities in public spaces.  These are often criminal or civil punishments for standing or eating or sitting in a public space.   
  • We have the only data set for laws around homeless – not all are criminal, some are civil (by “civil” I think we’re talking laws that pertain to people and things, not something that is “courteous and polite”.  Glad I could help clear up any confusion there… -ed)
  • Tracking laws in 186 cities across the country since 2006. (187 cities would have been too many, 185 not quite enough – 186 seems like the right number. –ed) Laws punishing innocent activities that are legal in indoor spaces are treated as offenses in public spaces. There is significant growth in these laws over time.  Focus on camping bans and encampments.  Currently litigating against Pierce County about camping bans (it is interesting that I’ve not really heard about this in the local media – or I missed it somehow. –ed).  Of the 186 large cities – 76% of cities currently ban camping in public. Camping in public can be erecting a tent and resting inside it.  Sometimes they are broader – disallowing sleeping outside even without a structures (I know I shouldn’t have just rested my eyes at Owen Beach – luckily I avoided any Imperial entanglements. -ed). Some prohibit making preparations to sleep – it is a crime to lay down a blanket or rest with your belongings.  People who don’t have access to housing, they cannot avoid violating these laws.  Laws criminalizing this activity has increased 80% over the last decade (I’m not sure I heard that “80%” number right, but I’m going with it. –ed) 
  • Many are living in their vehicles – anyone want to take a guess at how many cities punish using your own private vehicle as a shelter?  60% of cities across this country.  It is a little nuanced, and are sometimes written in parking regulations.  The act of sheltering in your vehicle is being punished.  These laws have increase 232% in the past 10 years.  We see more laws as more people are doing this activity (well, maybe they should stop doing it? Oh, that’s right, they don’t have any other option. –ed.)
  • The Causes of homelessness and criminalization
    • Failed systems
    • Bad laws
    • Homelessness is not always a function of bad personal choices. 
    • Racism is a major cause – even controlling for poverty – people of color are massively over represented – a legacy of racial inequality (a good read on racism and homelessness in Pierce County is the SPARC report - )
    • That 187 cities we track – we’ve seen policies heading in the wrong direction.  As unsheltered homelessness increases, communities throw law enforcement as a solution.  In Seattle, they say they don’t’ criminalize it – they just ask people to move along.  In Califlorida – they are jailed for 90 days, then can be incarcerated 365 days if they are a habitual offended (I don’t know what she said, but what I heard was “Califlorida”, which as far as I can tell isn’t a thing. So I’m not sure what she said –ed) We can go across the county and explain that policies that punish homelessness fail to address the problem of homeless and won’t reduce visible homelessness – it will hide homelessness, but it doesn’t reduce the number of people living outside. 
    • An offer of services is rarely the services someone needs to end their homelessness. 
    • We do a lot of harm with enforcement.  People will  lose all their property and gear, have their service relationships strained. It doesn’t just hurt people experiencing homeless
    • Law enforcement groups support prohibition of laws against homelessness.  The work of enforcing those laws uses scarce policing resources.
    • We know sleep deprivation and exposure to the elements decrease health (people in Pierce County who have touched the homeless system die 22 year earlier than those who haven’t – homelessness kicks your butt. –ed)
    • Cities and community members are hell bent on eliminating tents.  These tents control disease and provide additional shelter.  55% of people, after saying that they want some help for people living outside, also want a zero tolerance approach to people living outside.  That leads to sweeps – and everyone pays for that.  We pay millions for that.  Los Angeles, which has the largest unsheltered homeless population in the Country - they spend $30M per year on sweeps alone.  The sweep activities are increasing.  Advocates, the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH), the Federal Government – have issued two guidances that describe constructive approaches to encampments based on the data.  To draw on that work – go the USICH website ( ).  You’ll find a review of why it is so ineffective, and why Permanent Supportive Housing and housing in general are the answer.  More people are going into housing from homelessness than ever before, but the inflow is massive (in Pierce County we average 250 people starting an episode of homelessness per week. -ed).  If you are interested in the case – the growing body of research shows how and why criminalization is bad.
    • Tent City USA report ( ), we took the USICH guidance and did case studies and reviewed the 187 cities to see if they have policies in place to address encampments.  If they have any policy about how to address encampments – only 11% cities, even though they have policies against public camping, have no policy on how to address them. 
    • Principals of policies that work:
      1. All people need a safe place to be and a place to store things.  
      2. People need enough notice to find a new location.
      3. Delivery of services must respect the dignity of human rights.  If you don’t respect people dignity, they won’t use the services. 
      4. Any move or removal must follow clear procedures for residents.  A major complaint is that no one is communicating with residents – their belonging are at risk, but no one is talking to them about what is going to happen. Sometimes there is just a notice on a tree – that may be in just 1 language, or unclear or incorrect.
      5. Where temporary legal encampments are allowed, they must be as close as possible to adequate housing.  We all have an inherent right under international law to housing.  People need a legal, safe place tonight and today.  Authorized encampment are one way to  address that need.  Adequate housing needs to be decent – substandard housing does someone no good (then why do slumlords provide substandard housing? it can’t be just to make money off people living in poverty. Oh, wait… -ed)
      6. Law enforcement should serve and protect all members of the community.  There is growing law enforcement support for ending the punitive law enforcement of people experiencing homelessness. 
    • Ted- can you comment on the 4th district’s support of the 9th district?  Tristia – Martin versus City of Boise – it was a lawsuit on behalf of 6 individuals punished under 2 different laws – a camping ban.  The original lawsuit was filed in 2009 – the final decision came out recently.  It says it is cruel and unusual punishment to punish resting activities in public spaces when they have nowhere else to go.  The judgement means that any criminal punishment for resting activities in the 9th circuit can violate the 8th Many feel that it will be appealed to the Supreme court – they still have time to petition the Supreme Court – but that decision is the law now.  Many criticize the 9th circuit as being very liberal. But, just this week – the 4th circuit court rejected criminalizing owning alcohol or entering a liquor store if you are a “habitual drunk” – they found that punishing someone for something they can’t avoid is unlawful.  It can’t be illegal to be addicted to narcotics – that is a status and you can’t do that.  People are compelled to perform some activities, like resting, or if you are alcoholic, possessing alcohol, and it can’t be punished because it can’t be helped.  Martin is the narrower of the two opinions.  It is possible the supreme court overturns, but there is a lot of momentum now.  Martin does not protect you from being where you are, but protects you when you have nowhere else to go. 
    • Al – 4th court is that Manning v Caldwell ( ) – original decision went the other way – it allowed punishment of homeless people.  Tristia - we aren’t sure how the law will be extended and applied.  Only the habitual drunkard law exists - since they have no private place to consume alcohol.
    • Question – Judge Shaffer in Seattle, the 8th amendment ruling citing the Washington homestead act, as it applies to unreasonable punishment given to  people living in mobile homes.  The City’s approach was to ticket.  In Seattle v. long ( ), the $900 fines were found unlawful.  The 8th amendment deals with excessive fines.  Tristia – homeless rights advocacy project at Seattle University – is very specific to Seattle.  Washington State constitution grants a right to privacy in your structure.  Sweeps can’t be performed to see what is going on in your tent –Sarah Rankin does good work on this topic - .
    • Al – how could a group like this get involved in these issues – what is the highest priority issue to get involved in? Tristia – I’d prioritize the greatest impact with the highest change of success.  I’d look at rental rights – the law center “protect tenants prevent homelessness” and covers a variety of protections that improve stability.  Things like rent control and right to council.  You get real benefits from providing people with access to lawyers.  I’d push those tenant rights and homeless prevention measure.  Senate Bill 1591 ( ) – Mia Gregerson ( )– a homeless bill of rights – that among other things would guarantee a right to council (well, more funding anyway) and would have baked the Martin v Boise decision into state law – preventing criminalization of homelessness.
    • Theresa –I’m wondering why you are suing Pierce County – we all want our resources to go to housing, and a lawsuit will draw funds away.  Tristia - I’m from Sumner – a proud Spartan.  Pierce County wasn’t our target – but they were breaking the law in Puyallup.  Private vigilante activity is inspired by criminalizing homelessness. (I didn’t do a great job taking notes on this part of the conversation. It doesn’t seem like I got the full conversation down correctly – sorry. –ed).  Tristia – I take your point that litigation is expensive and draws resources.  Ted Brackman has been advocating for well over a decade – and brought me in the conversation in 2015.  We filed the lawsuit recently relative to our attempts to get positive changes.  We found our plaintiffs and some were on County land.  The County brought a dump truck and gave someone 30 minutes to leave an encampment.  We regret the loss of resources, but we need to stand up to these human rights abuses.  A lawsuit is a tactic of last resort.  We do litigate, but talking with people and working with people is always the first step.  Only when that fails do we litigate.

(current scene at the Nyland house:
14-year old: Hey Dad, I ready to make the cinnamon roll dough for tomorrow morning.
me: Dude, its 10pm – at 8pm I said we should probably start now, but you were busy…
14-year old:
14-year old: c’mon, you know you want to make it with me.
14-year old:
me: OK. I do. Yes, I do.
And that is why I’ll be e-mailing this out at 2am... –ed)

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