Supreme Court Case Grants Pass v Johnson

Supreme Court Case Grants Pass v Johnson


On Friday, January 12, the United States Supreme Court announced it would take up the case of Grants Pass v. Johnson, which is the most significant case about homelessness in over 40 years.

The Supreme Court will hear the case April 22, 2024, "to determine whether if, under our Constitution, a local government can make it a crime to involuntarily live outside and unsheltered, when adequate shelter is not available." [1] with a ruling expected to come by the end of June 2024.

The National Union of the Homeless vehemently opposes punishment, criminalization and imprisonment for being unhoused. We support Gloria Johnson, John Logan and any other plaintiffs in their human right to walk, sleep and occupy the earth, especially in public places, without persecution. And we support their struggle for their personal right to dignified housing, as affirmed by the United States in Article 25 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Lower courts have ruled that criminalizing the homeless who have been reduced to living in makeshift tents and encampments is cruel and unusual punishment.

According to the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Opportunity Index only 37% of homes sold in the last quarter of 2023 were considered affordable to families earning the U.S. median income of $96, 300. This is the lowest percentage of affordable housing since tracking began in 2012. Costs for other basic necessities - food, healthcare, and education continue to rise.

Workers have continued to increase productivity at astonishing rates and yet wages earned essentially flatlined since the early 1970s. An ever increasing amount of wealth continues to be captured by the wealthiest 1%. The top 1% own $38.7 trillion in wealth – approximately 30% of all the wealth in this country and nearly 50% of all private company wealth.

Instead of addressing this long standing interconnected crisis, political leadership, the police and Wall Street for decades now have sought only criminalization and stigmatization of the poor and dispossessed. Simply put this case represents another battle in the War on the Poor in this country. A recent report by the National Homelessness Law Center described that between 2006-2019, tracked 187 cities that passed laws criminalizing poor and homeless people: "city-wide bands on camping have increased by 92%, on sitting or lying by 78%, on loitering by 103%, on panhandling by 103%, and on living in vehicles by 213%. Meanwhile, a 1,300% growth of homeless encampments have been reported in all 50 states".

We call on homeless people and all people of conscience to denounce the impending attack on human rights that would result from an unfavorable ruling, in favor of Grants Pass. Furthermore we urge homeless people to educate their neighbors and bring them into action with us against this attack and similar attacks that we face. To that end we invite you to keep reading and stay tuned to national and local homeless unions as we coordinate our fight.

Homelessness is rising at significant levels nationwide and state and local governments across the nation are amping up criminalization on the unhoused. Indeed, so many people and families are being pushed into homelessness in part because of the all-out attack on essential services.

Over 16 million people have been cut from Medicaid since the pandemic expansion was allowed to end by the current administration [2] [3] Eviction moratoriums that demonstrably saved thousands [4] of lives at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic have been abandoned in favor of property owner's rights to raise the rent.

Now, over half of Americans are "rent-burdened" and are increasingly unable to pay for necessities like groceries and healthcare [5] [6]. With the deepening economic crisis, we also see a rise in criminalization of survival, like this case which criminalizes being unsheltered, as well as crackdowns on unlicensed vending, like selling loose cigarettes or bottles of water.

As more people struggle to simply survive, we see more desperation - like pitching a tent in the city park - that inevitably leads to more, sometimes violent, police encounters. This fact of rising homelessness might help explain record-setting levels of police violence in 2023 across the United States.

Make no mistake this is a bipartisan attack on us. Both Republicans & Democrats, want the Supreme Court to take up this case. California and 8 other Western states along with cities including Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angelos are submitting briefs and lobbying the Supreme Court to rule in their favor, allowing them to make it a crime to involuntarily be without shelter. [7] [8]

Cedar Monroe author of "Trash: A Poor White Journey" and an organizer with Chaplains on the Harbor has this to say about the impending Supreme Court hearing: "On the West coast the leading liberals/progressives, like Gov. Newsom and the mayors of San Francisco and Seattle are calling for this review and asking for broader powers to criminalize people. The West coast always likes to characterize itself as liberal, but has become quite brutal around issues of homelessness. Washington state governor Inslee just asked for 100 million to expand his efforts to clear encampments on the i5 corridor out of the state budget."

Penalizing people for their poverty and seeking the ability to put our most vulnerable residents in jail will only worsen our health. According to the Bureau of Justice the mortality rate for United States jails reached its highest levels since this data was collected and this was prior to the Pandemic. In 2018 more than 1,000 died in jail at a death rate of over 150 per 100,000. More than half of all jail deaths happen within one month of admission [9].

States aren't waiting for the Supreme Court to come back with a verdict; many have already proposed or passed bills criminalizing homelessness. Florida's State House passed a bill March 1, 2024 banning homeless people from sleeping in public and placing the responsibility on all local governments to deal with either sheltering us, organizing a government managed encampment out of sight and mind or criminalizing us.

The Cicero Institute based in Texas, works as consultants to state governments across the country. It presents itself as a nonpartisan group that works on solutions to "fix a broken system." Cicero Institute [10] [11] was founded in 2016 by Joe Lonsdale, the billionaire co-founder of software company Palantir, whose technology has been used for a range of controversial projects including migrant surveillance systems, predictive policing and battlefield management, according to the Penn Capital Star [12]. The Cicero Institute has filed an "amicus brief" supporting Grants Pass’s side in this case.[13]

Some of Cicero Institute's tenets of policy are around "eradicating homelessness" - including one of those to criminalize tent cities. There is a chance that if your state has experienced these kinds of laws attempting to be passed, this institute was the basis of it.

Last year Georgia signed into law a bill supported by the Cicero Institute that forbids the unhoused from setting up encampments. The legislation also restricts the movement of homeless people, mandating that they be returned to their last known area of residence. Already the homeless represent 1 in 8 in the Atlanta city jail.[14]

These municipalities are using language that it's a "public health crisis" and that they "need to clean up the streets" but whom are they referring to that they are concerned about and who are they casting aside? Who do these "clean up the streets" laws benefit and who do not benefit? We agree it is a public health crisis, we disagree that imprisonment is the way to handle it, the best way to handle this "public health crisis" would be to guarantee us our human right to housing and healthcare.

The media and many people in power really talk about us unhoused folks like we are a different species or something, a disease on this planet, like we aren't even human. This dehumanizing rhetoric affects our health and puts our lives at risk. Besides governments wanting to criminalize us, vigilantes beat or kill us as if we are the cause of the problems they face.

If the Supreme Court rules in favor of Johnson, it would provide some protection to the unhoused from the aforementioned laws. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of Grants Pass, it is a win for the elected officials or policy creators who agree with Grants Pass and profiteers; it could wreak havoc on the unhoused via more attacks, fines, jail, etc. and it won't stop there. This has the potential to cause harm to others, for if they rule it to be a crime for one to be responsible for something that happens to them on an involuntary basis there's no telling what could come next.

The current path of the United States is a grim future of prison or death for the poorest of the poor and the time for us to organize is NOW! We MUST unite and push back!

We gotta rise up and lead and demand justice! We need to demand our right to exist and demand our right to housing, healthcare and other basic human needs.

Stay tuned for upcoming announcements of actions and join us as we take up this fight. The fight for our right to exist and not be punished for the poverty the people in power enact through their policies via this death dealing system.

To get involved in a local chapter near you or to start a new local chapter send us an email at:


  1. Tars, Eric, "Criminalization of the Homeless", National Low Income Housing Coalition, Advocates Guide 2021. ↩︎

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  14.,people%20who%20were%20experiencing%20homelessness. ↩︎

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