CINCINNATI (WKRC) - Two recent court decisions surrounding homelessness may have a big impact on people sleeping on city streets. While the U.S. Supreme Court has decided not to hear a case about criminalizing homelessness, an appeals court ruled encampments are allowed on private property.
Kevin Finn has worked to end homelessness in Cincinnati for 21 years. He cautiously applauds the two recent court rulings that address the criminalization of sleeping on the streets.
“I don't think there's anything helpful about making it a criminal act for people to be sleeping outside if ultimately what we want is for people to get into housing,” said Finn.
The Supreme Court will not hear a case on a ban against homeless people sleeping in public spaces. That now means there's a constitutional right to camp in public.
"Filing charges, making things they're doing illegal, making their police history longer is not helpful for the long-term goal,” said Finn.
Ohio's First District Court of Appeals says governments cannot ban homeless encampments from private property -- like Hamilton County did at the New Prospect Baptist Church in 2018.
Finn is apprehensive about calling the rulings victories.
“I don’t think it’s ever a good move to ever try to criminalize people sleeping outside,” said Finn. “But at the same time, a homeless person is three times more likely to die sleeping outside on the streets, so we need to find a balance where we’re not encouraging people to sleep outside in camps either.”
Finn says the answer to that is more no-strings-attached housing for the homeless and, just in time for Christmas, that’s happening in Cincinnati. Shelterhouse has added 200 more beds that were once only available in the winter.
“They are targeted at people who are only willing to lay down and go to sleep. They’re not necessarily willing to engage in services and different things like that, and those tend to be the kind of shelter beds that appeal to people who would otherwise stay out on the streets in camps,” said Finn.
Finn expects to see fewer people sleeping on sidewalks come the new year but says there’s only one solution if you want to see real change:
“People will stay out in camps because they don’t want to go into a shelter that’s crowded, and the reason that shelter is crowded is because it’s full of people who can’t find an affordable place to live and the lack of affordable places to live is part of why they became homeless to begin with,” said Finn.
While some homeless camps have reappeared over the recent weeks, Finn says Hamilton County has seen a 43-percent decline in the number of people sleeping on the streets in the last six years.