Texas Homeless Network opposes HB 1925 and SB 987 because criminalization is the most expensive and least effective way of addressing homelessness. This bill seeks to hide people living outside from the immediate view of housed Texans rather than do what actually addresses homelessness – invest more in housing and supportive services.
This bill is not only prioritizing the least effective response to homelessness; it’s encouraging cities and counties to designate areas approved by state officers or agencies where Texans experiencing homeless may legally reside. This effectively further segregates people living outside from the rest of the community. The consequences of this bill will negatively impact the most marginalized and oppressed among us.
Additionally, it is unconstitutional to criminalize people experiencing homelessness if they have no other options. In 2017, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals effectively created a constitutional right to live outside in their ruling on Martin vs. City of Boise, stating that people cannot be prevented from living outside until there are enough shelter beds for everyone. The City of Boise appealed this decision, and in 2020, the Supreme Court denied a petition to review the case, upholding the 9th Circuit’s decision. Should the Texas State Legislature pass this bill, they are risking wasting millions of tax dollars in suits.
The criminalization of the poor, through the criminalization of living outside, is misguided public policy. Needlessly pushing homeless individuals into the criminal justice system does nothing to break the cycle of poverty or prevent homelessness in the future. Homelessness is caused by a failure of safety nets, that the criminal justice system is not able to nor are they the appropriate actors to adequately address. Enforcing this law would be onerous to local government and law enforcement and costly to taxpayers.
Texas Homeless Network supports promotion and investment in housing, such as through housing projects with a Housing First focus or an expansion of Housing Choice Vouchers. Housing is proven to be the most cost-effective and humane method to end homelessness. Rather than build systems to further exclude Texans, we should engage in constructive conversation about solutions and push for robust investment in actual solutions. Ultimately, that’s the only way communities have succeeded in making homelessness rare, brief, and a one-time event.
Note: currently there is no process to submit an online comment for Senate bills.