Three days after the City of Cincinnati announced an $83,000 settlement with the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition to not criminalize outdoor sleeping areas, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Grant Pass v. Johnson that cities have the right to prohibit people from sleeping outside.

There has been plenty of commentary in the ensuing days about whether people should have the right to sleep outside. I want to state unequivocally that I celebrate our city’s agreement to decriminalize sleeping outdoors. It is a crucial step in the right direction. As Justice Sotomayor stated in her Grant Pass v. Johnson dissent, criminalizing homelessness causes “a destabilizing cascade of harm.”   

However, I think debating the legality of street homelessness distracts us from the real issue: we need to do more to build our community’s well-being through housing affordability at lower income levels and robust homelessness services. 

Cincinnati—like many cities across the United States—continues to grapple with the complexities of homelessness. Our city’s homeless population has faced challenges exacerbated by exponential increases in rental costs, loss of affordable housing stock, and, until this week, policies that criminalize activities associated with homelessness, such as sleeping in public spaces or setting up temporary shelters like the tent city we saw along 3rd Street in 2018.  

While those sleeping unhoused are more commonly single adults, for the first time in decades, large numbers of families—parents with minor children—are being left to live on the Cincinnati streets when they can no longer afford their latest rent increase. There is simply not enough affordable housing available for families earning less than $40,000. 

Some families receive homelessness prevention assistance or emergency shelter from places like Bethany House, but many do not. In 2023, only 14% of families who called the local CAP line (housing crisis hotline) received assistance. The percentage of single people who received assistance is even lower. 

Decriminalizing homelessness is just the beginning of a recommitment to helping local residents without stable housing. This necessitates redirecting resources towards housing-first initiatives and supportive services such as shelter diversion, emergency shelter, and permanent supportive housing. Bethany House—in partnership with other local nonprofits—administers these proven programs and more. 

Studies and our own Hamilton County experience have shown that supportive housing programs not only reduce homelessness but also save taxpayers money overall. By providing stable housing and quality emergency shelter, individuals are less likely to end up in costly emergency services such as hospitals, jails, or child welfare assistance, resulting in overall savings for the community. 

Additionally, these housing-first approaches improve public safety and quality of life for all local residents. When individuals have access to stable housing, they are more likely to engage positively in their communities and seek assistance for any underlying issues such as addiction or mental illness. 

In the shadow of Grant Pass v. Johnson, Cincinnati has already made a key step forward by ending the criminalization of homelessness. We must now continue leading by example and embrace additional policies and increased investments that prioritize compassion and dignity for all residents.  

We can create a more equitable and resilient city for generations to come. Let’s build a community where everyone has a place to call home and no person or family spends a night without shelter.