Homeless encampments

From YIMBYwiki
Jump to: navigation, search
Stop the Sweeps PDX rally, 12/20/19. photo by Cory Elia
this article is part of the Village Buildings book / article collection. 

"Cities, suburban communities, and rural areas across the United States have seen in recent years the rise of groups of people experiencing unsheltered homelessness together. The term encampment is widely used by journalists and researchers to describe these groups, but other terms include tent cities, homeless settlements, and homeless camps. Although their existence is not unprecedented, media reports suggest that the number of encampments has increased sharply in recent years." - HUD 2019 report [Cohen et al 2019]. 

'Encampment' has become a commonly and officially used term in the U.S., though often used without definition. Other terms used are "tent city," shantytown, refugee camp.

The terms 'village,' 'settlement,' 'camp,' and sometimes 'tent city" are sometimes used and suggested by advocates as less pejorative and illegitimizing terms. These, especially 'village,' may be used to describe or suggest a wider range of situations beyond what users of 'encampment' mean, intentionally. 


(1) Background

"Tent Cities in America: Pacific Coast" (NCH, 2010)

National Coalition for the Homeless (2010). Tent Cities in America: A Pacific Coast Report."

prefatory quote: 

“Tent Cities are American’s de facto waiting room for affordable and accessible housing. The idea of someone living in a tent (or other encampment) in this country says little about the decisions made by those who dwell within and so much more about our nation’s inability to adequately respond to those in need.”
  -Neil Donovan, Executive Director, National Coalition for the Homeless 

"Tent Cities in America, A Pacific Coast Report lays the groundwork for:
• Understanding the diversity and conditions under which tent cities are created
• Comparing various levels of community acceptance, regulation, and governance
• Advocating safe, legal, and effective methods and practices of encampment."

1st site profiled: Dignity Village, Portland Oregon
• Est. 2000 (Legally Recognized in 2001)
• Population: 60
• Location: Public Land / Urban Periphery / Permanent Site
• Regulatory Status: Leased Public Land with City Contract to Operate.
• Funding Source: The Community’s Own 501 c (3) Nonprofit
• Structures: Wooden structures measuring up to 10x15 ft. 

"Unlike other homeless encampments that are sponsored by local governments or outside nonprofits, Dignity Village’s model of complete self-governance and funding gives the homeless a unique sense of autonomy and ownership of their community. Having a permanent site (unlike other Pacific Northwest homeless encampments, which move to different churches every ninety days) furthers this sense of ownership and allows the homeless to make both tangible physical and social improvements to their community in a way that is not possible in a mobile community. Many of the homeless describe the village as a “stepping stone” to a better situation and the stability offered by the permanent nature of the village, which allows people to keep and store their items in one place, improve their residence and public assets, and be a part of a community that defines itself not simply as one of homeless people, but an eco-village and intentional community founded on socialistic and communal beliefs. All of this contribute to Dignity’s mission and sets it apart from the other encampments."

"Villagers see their model not only as a viable alternative to an overburdened shelter system, but as one with significant benefits that offer their residents the stability, autonomy, and a platform for a better life. The density, publicness, and tangibility of the village attracts non-profits, students, and service groups in a way to support homeless people that is unique to other homeless outreach work found in cities with dispersed homeless populations or with traditional shelter systems. While Dignity Village is no longer classified as a tent city, or even a homeless encampment, it is particularly relevant to this report as an evolutionary development that sprang from such a community ten years ago. The community consciously sees itself as a national and even international model; advocates and government officials from across the nation and world have visited to learn about the community. "


"Constructive Alternatives to Criminalization" report (USICH, 2012)

USICH. "Searching Out Solutions: Constructive Alternatives to the Criminalization of Homelessness." June 2012. 

from: Executive Summary:

"In recent years, the United States has seen the proliferation of local measures to criminalize “acts of living” laws that prohibit sleeping, eating, sitting, or panhandling in public spaces. City, town, and county officials are turning to criminalization measures in an effort to broadcast a zero-tolerance approach to street homelessness and to temporarily reduce the visibility of homelessness in their communities. Although individuals experiencing homelessness should be afforded the same dignity, compassion, and support provided to others, criminalization policies further marginalize them, fuel inflammatory attitudes, and may even unduly restrict constitutionally protected liberties. There is ample evidence that alternatives to criminalization policies can adequately balance the needs of all parties. Community residents, government agencies, businesses, and men and women who are experiencing homelessness are better served by solutions that do not marginalize people experiencing homelessness, but rather strike at the core factors contributing to homelessness. 

"the 2009 HEARTH Act charged the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) with “develop[ing] alternatives to laws and policies that prohibit sleeping, eating, sitting, resting, or lying in public spaces when there are no suitable alternatives, result in the destruction of property belonging to people experiencing homelessness without due process, or are selectively enforced against people experiencing homelessness.” "

Potential solutions include...Ensure 24-hour access to shelters and/or services that offer alternatives to living in public spaces and access to services that meet the basic needs of individuals experiencing homelessness in order to reduce visible street homelessness and contribute to reductions in homelessness."


"Welcome Home: The Rise of Tent Cities in the US" (NLCHP, 2014)

Hunter, Julie, and Paul Linden-Retek, Sirine Shebaya, Samuel Halpert (2014). "Welcome Home: The Rise of Tent Cities in the United States." National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, March 2014. https://nlchp.org//wp-content/uploads/2018/10/WelcomeHome_TentCities.pdf.



"Tent City, USA" report (NLCHP, 2017)

"The USICH, in its [2015] guidance, took a bright line approach that municipalities should never authorize or support encampments, because that diverts resources that could otherwise go to permanent housing solutions for the residents of those encampments. The underlying principle—that every American deserves fully adequate housing, and encampments are not an acceptable alternative to permanent housing, is a valid one. But the USICH’s stance is not realistic with the current shortage of affordable housing and the current need for housing. As one city official put it “we need to deal with the problem of where do people sleep tonight while we build the housing where they can affordably and permanently sleep for the long term.” Furthermore, the criminal justice approach that so many communities are adopting is more expensive than supporting encampments short term- diverting a larger amount of resources away from permanent housing solutions." (p.41)


HUD / Abt Associates "Understanding Encampments" report, Jan 2019 

[Cohen et al 2019]

from Introduction: 
"This paper documents what is known about homeless encampments as of late 2018, based on a review of the limited literature produced thus far by academic and research institutions and public agencies, supplemented by interviews with key informants. This paper is part of a larger research study sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Policy Development and Research. This study’s goal is to contribute to our understanding of homelessness, including the characteristics of homeless encampments and the people who stay in them, as well as local ideas about how to address encampments and their associated costs."



"Housing Not Handcuffs" report (NLCHP, 2019 edition)

"In October 2019, following years of advocacy by local homeless organizers Denver Homeless Out Loud, the Denver City Council unanimously voted to allow 70 square foot tiny home communities in most of Denver.424 With a willing property owner, a tiny home “village” is permissible as a matter of right in industrial, commercial, and mixed-use areas. Church parking lots and residential areas can also host a village, and permits can be renewed yearly at the same location for up to four years, after which they village must move to a new location."


"Authorized Encampments:
As with emergency shelters, authorized encampments are not a permanent solution to homelessness. Housing is the only permanent solution. But safe and lawful homeless encampments can be a critical interim measure for helping to unhoused people while housing options are pursued. Local governments should develop constructive encampment policies, including designating a sufficient number of adequate areas where homeless people may safely and lawfully camp and store their belongings. To reduce harm to homeless residents and the surrounding communities, encampments should be provided with trash service, water service, and other necessary services, like toilets. In addition, local governments should develop constructive policies for addressing existing homeless encampments modeled on federal guidance and our Encampment Principles and Best Practices. At a minimum, state and local governments should develop policies for cleaning public places that do not displace homeless people from public lands, nor result in the destruction of their belongings, when there is no adequate housing alternative. Our Encampment Principles are available in Appendix B of this report."



(2) US legal precedents

Martin v Boise case

United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. "Robert Martin v. City of Boise, No. 15-35845." Opinion issued September 4, 2018. https://cdn.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2018/09/04/15-35845.pdf. 

from the majority Opinion, written by Judge Marsha S. Berzon:

"We consider whether the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment bars a city from prosecuting people criminally for sleeping outside on public property when those people have no home or other shelter to go to. We conclude that it does. The plaintiffs-appellants are six current or former residents of the City of Boise ('the City'), who are homeless or have recently been homeless. Each plaintiff alleges that between 2007 and 2009, he or she was cited by Boise police for violating one or both of two city ordinances. The first, Boise City Code § 9-10-02 (the 'Camping Ordinance'), makes it a misdemeanor to use 'any of the streets, sidewalks, parks, or public places as a camping place at any time.' The Camping Ordinance defines 'camping' as the use of public property as a temporary or permanent place of dwelling, lodging, or residence.'" [...]

"five Justices gleaned from Robinson the principle that “that the Eighth Amendment prohibits the state from punishing an involuntary act or condition if it is the unavoidable consequence of one’s status or being.” Jones, 444 F.3d at 1135; see also United States v. Roberston, 875 F.3d 1281, 1291 (9th Cir. 2017).

"This principle compels the conclusion that the Eighth Amendment prohibits the imposition of criminal penalties for sitting, sleeping, or lying outside on public property for homeless individuals who cannot obtain shelter. As Jones reasoned, “[w]hether sitting, lying, and sleeping are defined as acts or conditions, they are universal and unavoidable consequences of being human.” Jones, 444 F.3d at 1136. Moreover, any “conduct at issue here is involuntary and inseparable from status — they are one and the same, given that human beings are biologically compelled to rest, whether by sitting, lying, or sleeping.” Id. As a result, just as the state may not criminalize the state of being “homeless in public places,” the state may not “criminalize conduct that is an unavoidable consequence of being homeless — namely sitting, lying, or sleeping on the streets.” Id. at 1137.

"Our holding is a narrow one. Like the Jones panel, “we in no way dictate to the City that it must provide sufficient shelter for the homeless, or allow anyone who wishes to sit, lie, or sleep on the streets . . . at any time and at any place.” Id. at 1138. We hold only that “so long as there is a greater number of homeless individuals in [a jurisdiction] than the number of available beds [in shelters],” the jurisdiction cannot prosecute homeless individuals for “involuntarily sitting, lying, and sleeping in public.” Id. That is, as long as there is no option of sleeping indoors, the government cannot criminalize indigent, homeless people for sleeping outdoors, on public property, on the false premise they had a choice in the matter.8

Naturally, our holding does not cover individuals who do have access to adequate temporary shelter, whether because they have the means to pay for it or because it is realistically available to them for free, but who choose not to use it. Nor do we suggest that a jurisdiction with insufficient shelter can never criminalize the act of sleeping outside. Even where shelter is unavailable, an ordinance prohibiting sitting, lying, or sleeping outside at particular times or in particular locations might well be constitutionally permissible. See Jones, 444 F.3d at 1123. So, too, might an ordinance barring the obstruction of public rights of way or the erection of certain structures. Whether some other ordinance is consistent with the Eighth Amendment will depend, as here, on whether it punishes a person for lacking the means to live out the “universal and unavoidable consequences of being human” in the way the ordinance prescribes. Id. at 1136.

"We are not alone in reaching this conclusion. As one court has observed, “resisting the need to eat, sleep or engage in other life-sustaining activities is impossible. Avoiding public places when engaging in this otherwise innocent conduct is also impossible. . . . As long as the homeless plaintiffs do not have a single place where they can lawfully be, the challenged ordinances, as applied to them, effectively punish them for something for which they may not be convicted under the [E]ighth [A]mendment — sleeping, eating and other innocent conduct.” Pottinger v. City of Miami, 810 F. Supp. 1551, 1565 (S.D. Fla. 1992); see also Johnson v. City of Dallas, 860 F. Supp. 344, 350 (N.D. Tex. 1994) (holding that a “sleeping in public ordinance as applied against the homeless is unconstitutional”), rev’d on other grounds, 61 F.3d 442 (5th Cir. 1995)."


From the denial of rehearing, Apr 1, 2019: 

United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. "Robert Martin v. City of Boise, No. 15-35845 - Denial of rehearing en banc." Amending the Opinion of Sept 4, 2018.  Martin, 920 F.3d 584. https://casetext.com/case/martin-v-city-of-boise-2.  

From concurring opinon of Judge Marsha S. Berzon:

"the opinion holds only that municipal ordinances that criminalize sleeping, sitting, or lying in all public spaces, when no alternative sleeping space is available, violate the Eighth Amendment."

See the analyses of Martin v Boise in these two articles: 

Rankin, Sara K. "Hiding Homelessness: The Transcarceration of Homelessness," (SSRN, 5 December 2019). https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3499195. 

Harvard Law Review. "Martin v. City of Boise: Ninth Circuit Refuses to Reconsider Invalidation of Ordinances Completely Banning Sleeping and Camping in Public." 133 Harv. L. Rev. 699, Dec 10 2019. https://harvardlawreview.org/2019/12/martin-v-city-of-boise/.



post-Martin strategies - notes from National Forum on the Human Right to Housing 2019

NLCHP 2019 Human Right to Housing forum

National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty. "National Forum on the Human Right to Housing, Final Report".  http://nlchp.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/2019-Forum-Report-FINAL.pdf.

"On June 5th and 6th , 2019 more than 115 advocates, attorneys, currently and formerly homeless individuals, funders, and government representatives, gathered in Washington, D.C. for the annual National Forum on the Human Right to Housing organized by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty. This year, the Forum’s focus was on how to build on the Martin v. Boise decision which states communities cannot criminalize basic acts of survival like sleeping and self-sheltering in the absence of adequate alternatives.  The Forum was designed to draw on the resources that each participant brought to the table and to help create new ones. The event provided the opportunity to share victories and challenges and strategize for future advocacy."

"Photos from the event are located on the Law Center’s Twitter page (@nlchphomeless) and using #RTHForum hashtag. Facebook Live videos are located on the Law Center’s Facebook page."

Session VI: Breakouts: Beyond Martin: Next Steps and Takeaways

Paul Boden (Western Regional Advocacy Project), Kelley Cutler (San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness), Nikita Price (Picture the Homeless), Sara Rankin (Seattle University School of Law Homeless Rights Advocacy Project), and Eric Tars (National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty) led advocates in a discussion of strategies for post-Martin policy, including state- and local-level homeless bills of rights and other guidance or policies on addressing unsheltered homelessness.

Major Takeaways:

  • There is a real danger in the post-Martin backlash. Cities are looking for technical compliance while finding loopholes, and more heavily relying on public safety/health/environmental concerns as justifications for sweeps, and casting advocates as the ones endangering homeless persons for demanding alternatives before displacement.
  • We need work on creating a better way to answer the question about what to do about encampments. 
  • Develop best practices to give to elected officials who want to find a better process for outreach and to address concerns about public health and property impacts. In pushing anti-criminalization measures, need to pair with what the alternative is.
  • Monetizing the status quo helps (tracking every police/department of public works interaction).
  • Main message can be “Leave ‘em alone until you have an alternative; return HUD’s budget to pre-1980 levels, and you’ll end homelessness.”


(3) Portland

HUCIRP - Homeless and Urban Camping Impact Reduction Program 


"is responsible for coordinating cleanup/abatement of unsanctioned campsites on City and ODOT [Oregon Department of Transportation] owned properties/rights-of-way within the City while managing the City’s One Point of Contact campsite reporting system."  [City of Portland HUCIRP site]. 

The program staff pronounce it like "HUCK-urp."
We suggest "hue-SURP" - like "usurp."

HUCIRP Strategic Plan 2019-2021

• Continue to work with the Joint Office of Homeless Services, Multnomah County, and other jurisdictions on public space management strategies that reduce the need for campsite cleanup interventions which require the removal and storage of personal property.
• Implement a model of collaboration and cooperation with Portland Housing Bureau, Prosper Portland, OMF-HUCIRP, and property owning bureaus to identify underutilized City properties, or properties in pre-development stages, that could be used for alternative shelter purposes to provide lawful and organized places for people experiencing homelessness to sleep.



Stop the Sweeps PDX & related responses


Kaia Sand, executive editor of Street Roots newspaper in Portland, tweeted on Dec 17:

Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty https://www.facebook.com/CommissionerHardesty/posts/450865485834942 December 20 at 3:58 PM ·

"I’ve heard concerns coming from community members around campsite cleanups and I feel it’s imperative to clarify that City Council has not made a decision to cancel the Rapid Response contract, nor did I or any commissioners advocate for that. I want to assure community members that I hear your fear that the services currently provided felt threatened they would be interrupted and assure you that they are not.

"Here is where I stand: I understand the trauma that comes from sweeps. I have heard the stories of how these actions affect the mental, physical and emotional well-being of houseless individuals. With that understanding I am not supportive of the way the current contract is laid out. It is too large and onerous a task to ask one group to provide services; including engaging with houseless community members, moving and storing their property, and cleaning up biowaste.

"What I would like to see is for the city to extend the current contract for 6 months while council reimagines a new set of contracts to meet the needs of our community. Rather than one large contract, I would like to see the responsibilities split between several contractors with more specific expertise.

"I want to thank Commissioner Eudaly for working with me to pull the item from the agenda so council could have more time for a more robust discussion on this issue, and the Mayor for working collaboratively with his colleagues and hearing their concerns.

"I appreciate that advocates, neighbors and the hard working people at the city, including those at the Homelessness/Urban Camping Impact Reduction Program are all working towards solutions to this complex problem and I am committed to working with all of you. Together we can address these concerns with compassion."  

See extensive comments thread on this post for various views from community.


and later..



Dec 21 initial proposal in Village Collaborative group

intially labled HUCIRP+ ("use-SUR-plus"):


"What if we proposed a response to Supreme Court ruling and Portland 'sweeps' contract dispute that would put the $4.5M entirely into a program to provide sanctioned campgrounds, meeting specified standards of adequate capacity & location and civil rights, etc, and would also employ residents to do [any remaining] impact-mitigation work? 
    Linking stop-the-sweeps to this is in conversation in Seattle, where Councilmember Sawant and a large group of faith leaders recently proposed to add 20 new tiny house villages: 

"The proposal above come from my mulling this week about Supreme Court upholding of Boise v. Martin ruling. I am starting to wonder if advocates with Stop the Sweeps PDX etc may be missing some of the legal implications, and also possibilities, of this situation. 

Cory's article [Elia, 2019a] says, "The demands by the Stop the Sweeps PDX group are a complete stop of the practice of sweeps in accordance with the 9th District Court decision of Martin v. Boise." 
   However, it is not at all clear that Boise v. Martin requires that.  The majority opinion says:

"Nor do we suggest that a jurisdiction with insufficient shelter can never criminalize the act of sleeping outside. Even where shelter is unavailable, an ordinance prohibiting sitting, lying, or sleeping outside at particular times or in particular locations might well be constitutionally permissible. So, too, might an ordinance barring the obstruction of public rights of way or the erection of certain structures."  -- https://law.justia.com/cases/federal/appellate-courts/ca9/15-35845/15-35845-2019-04-01.html

"Further, as argued by dissenting opinions in the ruling, and many of the amici curiae briefs filed by states' attorney generals and many cities & counties, lots of people don't see it as manageable, sensible, or acceptable to allow shelter on *all* public property. You might say, nor do the unhoused, who probably wouldn't, for example, think it sensible to sleep/camp in the middle of active roads, or allow others to. 

"Localities continue to have many legal & practical means to sweep encampments -- after all, the law didn't change this week, it was upheld. I don't see that they either have or will soon have either a legal mandate or enough public pressure, in most places, to stop all sweeps. 

"HOWEVER, local governments/officials do feel beset, confused, and under high scrutiny in these matters, and they sense they are facing a lot of costs one way or another in terms of 'cleanup' costs, policing, political risks of being seen as mistaken or ineffective, etc. Perhaps we can help them help us? 

"THEREFORE, I suggest that we, and Stop The Sweeps campaign etc, consider what alternative proposals could be better than the status quo, or the most acceptable, even favorable, if we projected that "stop all sweeps" is not attainable.  Thus for example the hypothetical proposal above for citywide campground / village system presented as a way for city to remain in complance with Boise v. Martin ruling. "



Proposal for test lawsuit against Portland camping ban

from Tim McCormick, Comment, January 31, 2020, on Facebook post by Cory Elia, inviting suggested questions to ask Mayor Wheeler at upcoming homelessness forum. [see: Street Roots, "Mayor to host Portland forums about homelessness." 31 Jan 2020]: 

"I'd ask, like Mike O'Callaghan's question: how could Portland create adequate, sanctioned, shelter and/or camping areas for all homeless residents, in order for the city's campsite clearances to be defensible against constitutional challenges following from the 9th Circuit's Martin v Boise ruling? For example, if Portland's camping-restriction ordinance were challenged in Federal court?

"You may be able to ask the Mayor this or some question, but it doesn't seem that these very managed public fora are much likely to shift the Mayor/City's policy on, say, sweeps. In terms of the classic Arnstein "Ladder of Citizen Participation" model, these fora are probably low on the ladder. But I imagine other efforts/strategies are in play, what are they and where are those conversations happening?

"As my question suggests, a strategy I might suggest [though I Am Not a Lawyer] is to develop a test case something like original Martin v. Boise case: find someone penalized by city's anti-camping ordinance, who undeniably endured harm during actions enforcing the ordinance, and faces concrete, imminent risk of harm from future such enforcement action. Then file suit in Federal district court against the city seeking prospective relief and a permanent injunction enjoying the City from enforcing the ordinances.

"Federal district court in Oregon is bound by 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rulings, ie Martin v Boise, so if we got to this point it might look like the suit had a chance to succeed and invalidate the camping ban. This might create sufficient leverage to make the City either suspend enforcement of the campsite ban, or modify the ordinance to meet constitutional muster, and possibly get the suit withdrawn.

"Note, I imagine that groups such as National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty and ACLU and ACLU of Oregon are contemplating such legal strategies, and would know much more about it than my amateur legal hypothesizing does. I haven't yet seen anything from them along these lines, perhaps it's too soon after Supreme Court's denial of Martin v Boise appeal the other month.

"Reference: An action like the suit above would be a case of moving UP on "A Ladder Of Citizen Participation," described by Sherry R. Arnstein, 1969, in Journal of the American Planning. Association, 35: 4, 216-224."


Groups / leaders involved

Fight the Sweeps PDX (Facebook page)


Commissioner Joann Hardesty 




(4) Other cities





San Francisco


Washington D.C. 


from Metraux et al 2019. "An Evaluation of the City of Philadelphia’s Kensington Encampment Resolution Pilot."



(5) Guides/Proposals for encampment operation and response

Parr & Rankin (2018), Guide for Authorized Encampments.

Parr, Evanie and Rankin, Sara (2018). "It Takes a Village: Practical Guide for Authorized Encampments." Seattle University Homeless Rights Advocacy Project, May 3, 2018. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3173224.

NLCHP, "Housing Not Handcuffs" report 2019

"Authorized Encampments:
As with emergency shelters, authorized encampments are not a permanent solution to homelessness. Housing is the only permanent solution. But safe and lawful homeless encampments can be a critical interim measure for helping to unhoused people while housing options are pursued. Local governments should develop constructive encampment policies, including designating a sufficient number of adequate areas where homeless people may safely and lawfully camp and store their belongings. To reduce harm to homeless residents and the surrounding communities, encampments should be provided with trash service, water service, and other necessary services, like toilets. In addition, local governments should develop constructive policies for addressing existing homeless encampments modeled on federal guidance and our Encampment Principles and Best Practices. At a minimum, state and local governments should develop policies for cleaning public places that do not displace homeless people from public lands, nor result in the destruction of their belongings, when there is no adequate housing alternative. Our Encampment Principles are available in Appendix B of this report."

Appendix B:  Encampment Principles & Best Practices 

Based on input from federal, state, and local representatives, service providers, and people experiencing homelessness, as well as relevant domestic and international laws, our initial findings revealed certain key principles and corresponding practices that appear to be important for successful interventions to end encampments in our communities. These principles and practices are excerpted from TENT CITY, USA: The Growth of America’s Homeless Encampments and How Communities are Responding
(https://www.nlchp.org/Tent_City_USA _2017), which also includes numerous case studies of communities implementing these best practices. As a caution, we note that while incorporating interim encampments into a plan to end homelessness may provide homeless individuals with an improvement in their quality of life and reduce calls for criminalization, the community must also have a serious and funded long-term plan that ensures the availability of permanent, adequate, appropriate housing for all, so encampments do not become a permanent feature of our cities and towns.

Encampment Principles and Practices

Principle 1:
All people need safe, accessible, legal place to be, both at night and during the day, and a place to securely store belongings— until permanent housing is found.

• Determine the community’s full need for housing and services, and then create a binding plan to ensure full access to supportive services and housing affordable for all community members so encampments are not a permanent feature of the community.
• Repeal or stop enforcing counterproductive municipal ordinances and state laws that criminalize sleeping, camping, and storage of belongings.
• Provide safe, accessible, and legal places to sleep and shelter, both day and night. Provide clear guidance on how to access these locations.
• Create storage facilities for persons experiencing homelessness, ensuring they are accessible–close to other services and transportation, do not require ID, and open beyond business hours.

Principle 2:
Delivery of services must respect the experience, human dignity, and human rights of those receiving them.

• Be guided by frequent and meaningful consultation with the people living in encampments. Homeless people are the experts of their own condition.
• Respect autonomy and self-governance for encampment residents.
• Offer services in a way that is sensitive and appropriate with regard to race, ethnicity, culture, disability, gender identity, sexual orientation, and other characteristics. Use a trauma-informed approach.

Principle 3:
Any move or removal of an encampment must follow clear procedures that protect residents. Create clear procedures for ending homelessness for people living in pre-existing encampments, including:

• Make a commitment that encampments will not be removed unless all residents are first consulted and provided access to adequate alternative housing or—in emergency situations—another adequate place to stay.
• If there are pilot periods or required rotations of sanctioned encampments, ensure that residents have a clear legal place to go and assistance with the transition. Pilot periods or requiring rotation of legal encampments/parking areas on a periodic basis (e.g., annually or semi-annually) can help reduce local “not-in-my-back-yard” opposition, but shorter time periods hinder success.
• Provide sufficient notice to residents and healthcare/ social service workers to be able to determine housing needs and meet them (recommended minimum 30 days, but longer if needed).
• Assist with moving and storage to enable residents to retain their possessions as they transfer either to housing, shelter, or alternative encampments.

Principle 4:
Where new temporary legalized encampments are used as part of a continuum of shelter and housing, ensure it is as close to possible to fully adequate housing.

• Establish clear end dates by which point adequate low-barrier housing or appropriate shelter will be available for all living in the legal encampments.
• Protect public health by providing access to water, personal hygiene (including bathrooms with hand washing capability), sanitation, and cooking services or access to SNAPS hot meals benefits.
• Provide easy access to convenient 24-hour transportation, particularly if services are not colocated.
• Statutes and ordinances facilitating partnerships with local businesses, religious organizations, or non-profits to sponsor, support or host encampments or safe overnight parking lots for persons living in their vehicles can help engage new resources and improve the success of encampments.
• Do not require other unsheltered people experiencing homelessness to reside in the encampments if the facilities do not meet their needs.

Principle 5:
Adequate alternative housing must be a decent alternative.
• Ensure that emergency shelters are low-barrier, temporary respites for a few nights while homeless individuals are matched with appropriate permanent housing; they are not long-term alternatives to affordable housing and not appropriate in the short term for everyone. Low-barrier shelter includes the “3 P’s”—pets, possessions, and partners, as well as accessible to persons with disabilities or substance abuse problems.

• Adequate housing must be:

  • Safe, stable, and secure: a safe and private place to sleep and store belongings without fear of harassment or unplanned eviction;
  • Habitable: with services (electricity, hygiene, sanitation), protection from the elements and environmental hazards, and not overcrowded;
  • Affordable: housing costs should not force people to choose between paying rent and paying for other basic needs (food, health, etc.); 
  • Accessible: physically (appropriate for residents’ physical and mental disabilities, close to/ transport to services and other opportunities) and practically (no discriminatory barriers, no compelling participation in or subjection to religion).

Principle 6:
Law enforcement should serve and protect all members of the community.

• Law and policies criminalizing homelessness, including those criminalizing public sleeping, camping, sheltering, storing belongings, sitting, lying, vehicle dwelling, and panhandling should be repealed or stop being enforced.
• Law enforcement should serve and protect encampment residents at their request.
• Law enforcement officers—including dispatchers, police, sheriffs, park rangers, and private business improvement district security—should receive crisis intervention training and ideally be paired with fully-trained multi-disciplinary social service teams when interacting with homeless populations.

Beyond these specific recommendations, in order to create the long-term housing solutions communities needed to permanently end encampments, we also encourage individuals and organizations to look at the model policies of the Housing Not Handcuffs Campaign: housingnothandcuffs.org."


Solutions Not Sweeps coalition, San Francisco

they make four key demands: 

  1. End the illegal confiscation and destruction of unhoused neighbors’ personal property.
  2. Replace the complaint-driven and law enforcement-led response to homelessness with an evidence-based approach aimed at connecting people with their needs.
  3. End the use of cleaning as a pretext for harassment of unhoused people and establish productive, scheduled, regular, and well-publicized street and sidewalk cleaning where unhoused people reside.
  4. End the towing of vehicles that people are using as their homes.



Services Not Sweeps (Los Angeles).

Services Not Sweeps, LA

"Our Demands" https://servicesnotsweeps.com/

"The City of Los Angeles, in response to community organizing, demands from unhoused communities, County Public Health reports, and other input, has increased street cleaning and sanitation services in unhoused communities over the past three to five years. Unfortunately, however, the City has done so with an emphasis on criminalization, harassment, and removal of people and their belongings, instead of taking a health-based approach to ensuring safe and clean streets for all.

All endorsers acknowledge that housing is the ultimate solution to homelessness, and work to increase, preserve, and broaden access to housing on a daily basis.  Endorsers also know, though, that housing for everyone is a decades-long goal that requires far more funding and massive policy change to undo this crisis that has been 40 years in the making. Therefore, the City and all of its Departments and residents, must change the approach to unhoused communities in our public spaces, and provide health-based solutions and resources that improve living conditions for all of us. To accomplish this goal, at a minimum:

We call on the Mayor of the City of Los Angeles to immediately:

1) Remove all Law Enforcement personnel from any of the City’s street cleaning teams and efforts

2) Ensure all street and sidewalk cleaning is scheduled, regular, and well publicized

  • Eliminate the complaint-driven model in all forms. All street and sidewalk cleaning must occur as publicly scheduled.
  • Cleaning will be scheduled on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly timeframe, with a 2 to 4 hour window of time, similar to other City street cleaning services.
  • Continue to post notices at and near each site prior to cleaning services, either 48 or 72 hours in advance.
  • Schedule will be publicly available through the City’s website, and via other modes of communication to ensure the information is readily available to homeless individuals, service providers, and others.
  • Posted notices will include a map of the area to be cleaned and identify a voluntary secure space for people to leave their belongings during the cleanup if they choose to do so and/or have to leave the site during the cleaning. However, property/belongings can also be in any other space, as long as it does not impede cleaning. Attended or unattended personal property may be temporarily moved in order to complete cleaning, but will not be removed to offsite storage or confiscated under any circumstances.

3) Ensure appropriate resources are in place in advance of and during all scheduled cleaning

  • Dumpsters/trash bins, individual trash bags, sharps disposal containers, and other health resources will be provided at the site of scheduled cleaning, at least 24 hours before the cleanup begins, so individuals can sort and throw trash away.
  • Outreach workers will be present on site the day before the clean-up and also thirty minutes before the cleanup begins to provide additional notice of cleanings.  Outreach workers or other community members will be allowed at the clean up sites to help identify and assist individuals who need accommodations to move their belongings.
  • City officials will ensure that the provision of appropriate resources extends to any informal shelter needs in extreme weather such as rain or heat, and will provide accommodations during street cleaning that occurs in extreme weather conditions.
  • Until such time restrooms are readily available in all communities, ensure that unhoused residents can utilize the City workers’ porta-potty currently on site during street cleaning.  

4) Ensure an accountability system for City street and sidewalk cleaning procedures, including a complaint/grievance process and a response to any violations documented within three days.

All of the changes outlined can and must be implemented immediately, as they require no additional funding, no legislative changes, and are within the direct oversight of the Mayor of Los Angeles. Additionally, funding and policy change are required to fully ensure a health-based approach to street cleaning and sanitation services in homeless communities. At a minimum, these are outlined below.

We call on the Mayor of the City of Los Angeles to include in the 2019 budget (including any existing or planned HEAP funds):

1) Plans and funding to increase trash services

  • Ensure that areas with significant homeless communities receive daily trash service.
  • Ensure that the recent increase in trash cans and collection in Skid Row be maintained or expanded.  

2) Improve public health infrastructure beyond street cleaning efforts

  • For larger encampments, shower trailer, mobile bathrooms, needle exchange, Narcan training and distribution, and other public health and harm reduction resources and services must also be provided during street cleaning
  • Increase mobile showers and bathrooms citywide in areas of highest need
  • Remove and/enforce against hostile architecture, particularly the illegal sidewalk planters.  

We call on the Los Angeles City Council to:

1)Rescind ordinances that have solely been used to criminalize homelessness during street cleaning efforts and at other times, including 41.18 d and 56.11.

2) Support the budget proposals above, at a minimum, to address public health and end harassment and criminalization.

3) Implement the Guiding Principles and Practices for Local Responses to Unsheltered Homelessness across all areas and departments of the City, particularly Sanitation.      

This document is solely focused on a public health and harm reduction approach to street and sidewalk cleaning.  All endorsers agree on these recommendations.  However, this document does not include the multiple changes urgently needed in Los Angeles Police Department policy that criminalize homelessness, poverty and communities of color far more broadly than in the street/sidewalk cleaning efforts, or other recommendations to improve health and respect all human and civil rights."


Leilani Farha & Haseena Manek (2020)

Manek, Haseena, and Leilani Farha.  "The case for a human rights response to homeless encampments." ["Residents of informal settlements are not recipients of charity nor are they trespassers, criminals or deviants – they are rights-holders and experts in their own lives"]. Now Toronto, Feb 11, 2020. https://nowtoronto.com/news/homeless-encampments-toronto-canada/.

"What’s mystifying is the response to encampments by all levels of government. "Instead of trying to address the situations through robust human rights-based strategies, they respond by committing yet another human rights violation: forcibly evicting people from their homes. For those experiencing homelessness, it’s double jeopardy. 

"Governments need to recognize that tent encampments are of their own making. It’s time to develop a national protocol on tent encampments based on human rights.

"What does that mean? Here are the fundamentals:

"A ban on forced evictions:  'Forced eviction, the permanent or temporary removal of a person from their lands or home – whether an apartment, a house, a tent or a car – constitutes a gross violation of international human rights law, particularly when shelters are at capacity. Laws permitting forced evictions should be repealed. And all viable alternatives to eviction must be explored in consultation with residents. 

"Meaningful engagement  "Residents of informal settlements are not recipients of charity nor are they trespassers, criminals or deviants. They are rights-holders, and they are experts in their own lives. Any policies, programs or decisions that affect them should include their active and meaningful participation. Residents should be provided with the necessary resources and support to engage in discussions with government officials regarding their living conditions and arrangements.

"Access to basic services "Conditions in encampments are often deplorable. Governments fail to provide basic services required for human dignity such as toilets, showers, garbage collection and electricity. Denial of these services not only infringes the right to adequate housing but also serves to entrench public stereotypes about those living in poverty and homelessness. The provision of these services should be mandatory.

"Housing over evictions  "Where there is no viable alternative and eviction is required, it must be carried out in a manner consistent with international human rights law, which includes relocating residents to adequate, long-term housing with supports in the approximate location to the encampment or to another agreed-upon location.  "A human rights foundation." [...].