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U.S. bishops: Supreme Court ruling ‘criminalizes homelessness’

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The U.S. bishops strongly condemned the Supreme Court’s Friday ruling in a pivotal homelessness case, calling the court’s decision “a direct contradiction of our call to shelter those experiencing homelessness and care for those in need.”

In the 6-3 decision, issued in City of Grants Pass, Oregon v. Gloria Johnson, the court ruled that cities can arrest or fine homeless individuals for camping in public spaces.

Writing on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Archbishop Borys Gudziak, head of the bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, said that “ticketing and arresting people for it [being homeless] is a counterproductive approach to the problem of homelessness” and that “criminalizing homeless is not the response to caring for those in need.”

Did the Supreme Court criminalize being homeless?

The Supreme Court’s ruling, written by Justice Neil Gorsuch, said that though homelessness is a complex issue, the courts have no right to interfere with local communities’ attempts to solve it.

The decision reversed a 9th Circuit Court’s ruling that had said fining and imprisoning homeless individuals for camping in public spaces qualified as cruel and unusual punishment for an involuntary condition, something prohibited by the Eighth Amendment.

Gorsuch said the Eighth Amendment “serves many important functions, but it does not authorize federal judges to wrest those rights and responsibilities from the American people and in their place dictate this nation’s homelessness policy.”

“People will disagree over which policy responses are best; they may experiment with one set of approaches only to find later another set works better,” Gorsuch wrote. “But in our democracy, that is their right. Nor can a handful of federal judges begin to ‘match’ the collective wisdom the American people possess in deciding ‘how best to handle’ a pressing social question like homelessness.”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote the dissenting opinion, which was joined by Justices Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson. Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a separate concurring opinion.

Catholic bishops respond

Gudziak said in a statement for the U.S. bishops that the court’s decision amounts to “criminalizing” homelessness and will only worsen the crisis.

“This decision fails to affirm the inherent dignity of a person, which is properly recognized by the Constitution,” Gudziak wrote.

The U.S. bishops filed an amicus brief in the case, arguing against Grants Pass’ ability to fine and imprison homeless individuals. Gudziak pointed out that the bishops have long advocated for more federal spending on “safe, decent, and affordable housing” along with other services for homeless individuals.

“Instead of punishing the most vulnerable among us, government should help provide shelter and economic and social programs that uphold and enhance the dignity of homeless persons,” he said. “Such action would offer real opportunities for a better life and to remedy the deeper causes of homelessness.”

This comes as many U.S. cities are dealing with a rise in homelessness. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said in its 2023 report to Congress that it had found “experiences of homelessness increased nationwide across all household types.”

According to the HUD, 2023 saw the “highest number of people reported as experiencing homelessness on a single night since reporting began in 2007.”

EWTN recently took an in-depth look into the state of the growing homeless crisis in the U.S. and how it is affecting homeless individuals and communities:


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U.S. bishops: Supreme Court ruling ‘criminalizes homelessness’