True Colors United Responds to Johnson v. Grants Pass Decision, Warns of Disproportionate Harm to LGBTQ+ and BIPOC Youth

28
Jun 2024

U.S. Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Grants Pass, Oregon in Pivotal Homelessness Criminalization Case

In a profoundly disappointing ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court today (6/28/24) issued a majority opinion in Johnson v. Grants Pass that criminalizing people experiencing homelessness for sleeping in public spaces does not amount to a violation of their constitutional rights, even if they do not have access to safe and adequate housing or shelter.

True Colors United, which implements innovative solutions to youth homelessness that focus on the experiences of LGBTQ+ and BIPOC young people, agrees with several of the concerns addressed in Justice Sotomayor’s dissent including how this decision “fails to engage seriously with the precipitating causes of homelessness, the damaging effects of criminalization, and the myriad legitimate reasons people may lack or decline shelter.”

This decision will reinforce cycles of oppression, causing disproportionate harm to LGBTQ+ and BIPOC youth and young adults, who are already more likely to experience homelessness and interactions with law enforcement. In the words of Justice Sotomayor, “criminalizing homelessness can cause a destabilizing cascade of harm.” Any increase in communities’ reliance on law enforcement to address homelessness will place LGBTQ+ and BIPOC young people, and especially Black transgender young people, at even greater risk than their peers of interaction with the criminal legal system, with damaging, lifelong consequences, including long-term barriers to housing that are directly and specifically created by the criminal legal system. 

“When cities and counties enact laws that allow police to arrest unhoused people for sleeping outdoors, they aren’t taking a step toward solving homelessness, they’re making it worse by ensuring that every person they arrest has one more trauma to heal from, one more legal barrier between them and housing, one more fine they can’t afford to pay.

Policymakers across the US have the opportunity to respond to today’s decision with the determination to solve homelessness with housing, not handcuffs. Our leaders are responsible for ensuring that everyone — especially young people, Black and Indigenous people, and LGBTQ+ people who are most vulnerable to housing insecurity — has their basic needs met without condition, including their fundamental human right to housing.”

Dylan Waguespack, CEO of True Colors United.

The potential outcomes of this decision are catastrophic within the context of the continued rise in interpersonal violence against trans people, the growing political violence targeting LGBTQ+ youth, and the escalating state-sanctioned violence against Black bodies. These crises become even more dire when overlapping with the increased political hostility targeting people experiencing homelessness, apparent in the escalation in the adoption and enforcement of homelessness criminalization laws in cities and states across the United States.

Background:

The following facts and figures demonstrate how BIPOC and LGBTQ+ youth and young adults will be at risk of disproportionate harm as a result of the Johnson v. Grants Pass ruling:

  • HUD’s 2023 Point-in-Time Count showed a 15 percent increase in homelessness among youth and young adults since 2022. 
  • The same Point-in-Time Count referenced above showed that homelessness among transgender and gender non-conforming youth increased by 28 percent from 2022 to 2023, climbing at nearly twice the rate of the overall youth and young adult population.
  • A demographics survey conducted by HHS of young people served by Street Outreach Programs found that the percentage of unsheltered youth who identified as transgender—6.8 percent—is 3 times that of a recent national estimate of transgender homeless youth.
  • Nearly one in ten (9%) respondents to the 2015 US Trans Survey who stayed at a shelter in the previous year were thrown out after the shelter staff found out that they were transgender. Forty-four percent (44%) decided to leave the shelter because of poor treatment or unsafe conditions, even though they had no other place to go.
  • In a study published by Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, Indigenous and Black youth were especially overrepresented among youth experiencing homelessness, with an 83% and 120% percent increased risk, respectively, of having experienced homelessness over youth of other races. 

In response to the Supreme Court’s decision, True Colors United is adding our voice to the National Homelessness Law Center in calling on the Biden administration and Congress to invest at least $356 billion in the next year with continued funding in future years to ensure that everybody has safe, decent housing that they can afford. Within that, specific investments must be made to address the unique barriers to economic and housing security confronted by youth and young adults.  

Here is what you can do now to take action:

Reach out to your federal elected officials and demand funding for housing. You can call the office of your Congressional representative and Senators or send an email. You can find your Congressional representative’s and Senators’ contact information here

Join the National Homelessness Law Center on Monday at 1 PM EST for a Mass Organizing Zoom to discuss this decision and learn about the next steps to ensure everybody has a safe place to call home. Click here to RSVP.

About True Colors United:

True Colors United implements innovative solutions to youth homelessness by focusing on the experiences of those most impacted —LGBTQ+ and BIPOC youth. Our team works at the federal, state, and local levels to ensure vital funding, policies, systems, and protections are in place that meet the needs of LGBTQ+ and BIPOC youth experiencing or at risk of homelessness. We partner with young people and national, state-level, and local advocates in advancing policies that bring us closer to a future where housing justice is a reality for all.