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Housing advocates say US Supreme Court decision limiting homeless rights is impacting CT

Homeless camps in South Hartford, Connecticut April 14, 2023.
Joe Amon
Connecticut Public
Advocates say a recent Supreme Court decision that allows municipalities to criminalize homeless with ordinances such as bans on sleeping outside may embolden Connecticut cities such as Hartford (above).

A U.S. Supreme Court decision limiting the rights of homeless residents is already having an impact on Connecticut’s homeless population, housing advocates say.

The court sided with the city of Grants Pass, Oregon, which created an ordinance making it illegal to sleep outside.

Homeless residents were ticketed, arrested and encampments were destroyed, despite there being insufficient shelter space in the city.

Police in some of Connecticut's shoreline communities, including Bridgeport, have already become emboldened by the ruling, according to David Rich, chief executive officer of Bridgeport-based housing advocacy group, the Housing Collective.

“With the Grants Pass decision we’re already hearing of police being more forceful and moving people on,” Rich said. “That's not quite the level of criminalizing or providing tickets, but it’s certainly somewhat the same results of forcing people out.”

The court didn’t criminalize homelessness; rather, it allowed communities to pass local laws criminalizing homelessness, Rich said.

There are no such ordinances in Connecticut, but the court’s decision set the stage for similar ones to be approved.

“There’s certainly momentum throughout the country,” Rich said. “[It] could be working in that way when it emboldens communities to do what they wouldn't have thought of before.”

Rich said Connecticut has a good start on implementing the right programming when it comes to combating homelessness.

“What's lacking is the access to safe, affordable housing, and we have to put that singular focus into preserving what we have and building far more affordable housing for all,” Rich said.

The Supreme Court found it was not considered cruel and unusual punishment to create a law enabling law enforcement officials to fine or arrest residents for sleeping outdoors.

Six Justices voted in favor of Grants Pass, while three voted in favor of the residents who filed the lawsuit.

In its opinion, the court expressed concern regarding the spread of disease and drug use in homeless encampments, and that cities need access to all tools available, including laws, to tackle the crisis.

“With encampments dotting neighborhood sidewalks, adults and children in these communities are sometimes forced to navigate around used needles, human waste, and other hazards to make their way to school, the grocery store, or work,” Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote.

However, Rich believes the Supreme Court’s decision is a disappointment and violates basic rights.

“Every person in the nation deserves to share in the prosperity and the abundance of the world we've created,” Rich said. “This case is certainly a step in the wrong direction.”

Abigail is Connecticut Public's housing reporter, covering statewide housing developments and issues, with an emphasis on Fairfield County communities. She received her master's from Columbia University in 2020 and graduated from the University of Connecticut in 2019. Abigail previously covered statewide transportation and the city of Norwalk for Hearst Connecticut Media. She loves all things Disney and cats.

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