Forced Treatment and Criminalization Won’t End Homelessness

By Jesse Fairbanks

In late April, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in an important case regarding homelessness. Grants Pass v. Johnson will decide whether the city of Grants Pass, Oregon, violated the constitutional rights of people experiencing homelessness by fining or arresting them for sleeping outdoors—even when there were no shelters to take them in.

At the same time, several states and municipalities have expanded involuntary treatment at residential facilities for people struggling with mental illness or substance use. Most of these expansions target people experiencing homelessness who have crises in public. By one estimate, one-third of people who are homeless have a serious mental illness and one in five struggle with substance use. As a traumatic life event, homelessness can cause or exacerbate symptoms of mental illness and addiction.

In March, California voters narrowly passed Proposition 1, a sweeping measure pushed by Governor Gavin Newsom that will add new treatment beds in residential facilities. The state recently broadened the scope of its conservatorship law to include those who can’t provide for their basic needs, resembling a similar measure championed by Mayor Eric Adams in New York City. Other states like Oregon are considering similar expansions.

Although policymakers argue that involuntary treatment can help people experiencing homelessness, expanding forced treatment will have the same consequences as the Supreme Court siding with Grants Pass. Both interventions seek to hide people experiencing homelessness from public view; both seek to make unsheltered homelessness less visible rather than end it.


>>Read the full op-ed on The Progressive