Pennsylvania House and Senate Democrats Condemn US Supreme Court’s Homelessness Ruling

Pennsylvania Rep. Lindsay Powell (D-Allegheny) and Democrats in the state House and Senate on Tuesday opposed a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that supported a ban on homeless people sleeping outdoors.

“The Supreme Court’s ruling criminalizes poverty, deepening pathetic public policy,” Powell said during a news conference in the Capitol rotunda. “And now our neighbors face a stark reality: Stay vigilant or face arrest.”

In a 6-3 majority decision, Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in the opinion that enforcement of local laws regulating camping on public lands does not violate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

The case originated in Grants Pass, Oregon, where it was argued that the ordinance was a solution to the city’s homeless crisis. The ordinance includes fines and potential jail time for repeat offenders who camp or sleep outside.

“Not only is this a fundamental injustice, not only is it completely wrong, but study after study shows that criminalizing homelessness, clearing encampments without care or attention, has the perverse effect of worsening the crisis it supposedly solves,” said Rep. Ismail Smith-Wade-El (D-Lancaster).

“If the goal is to truly reduce homelessness, especially among our most vulnerable populations, then we need to get these people into homes now,” he continued. “If the goal is to punish people who get into financial trouble and generate additional revenue for the carceral state, then the Supreme Court is doing a fantastic job.”

Smith-Wade-El and Powell are among a group of Democrats who plan to introduce legislation in the House of Representatives aimed at “combating the criminalization of homelessness in this state,” he added.

The co-sponsors’ memo said the legislation “will seek to safeguard the right to be outdoors and the right to share public spaces while ensuring that local authorities provide adequate, low-barrier housing to accommodate the homeless population.”

Senator Amanda Cappelletti (D-Montgomery) is among the Democrats planning to introduce bill for a companion in the Senate.

“The claim that arresting people sleeping in public does not qualify as cruel and unusual punishment under our Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution is simply unacceptable,” Cappelletti said Tuesday. “The stunning lack of empathy and compassion shown by the majority of the Supreme Court justices is what is cruel and unusual.”

Additionally, Powell introduced a bill to create the Affordable Home Purchase Program within the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development. House of Representatives Bill No. 2454 would enable the program to provide grants for homeownership projects.

She pointed to other bills in the House of Representatives that would support address homelessness in Pennsylvania, including the Smith-Wade-El bill, which seal some eviction recordsand Rep. Napoleon Nelson (D-Montgomery) a draft law aimed at Fighting homelessness.

“The House and the Senate are committed to doing everything we can, as you heard today, to provide real solutions, real solutions, and real housing units,” Powell said. “Those solutions do not include locking people up while they sleep.”

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