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How Kansas City could be affected by the U.S. Supreme Court case on homelessness

A homeless camp
Carlos Moreno
The Supreme Court's decision on criminalizing sleeping outside comes as the crisis is at a record high, with more than 650,000 Americans living in shelters, tents and cars.

The Supreme Court of the United States will decide this summer if unhoused people can be fined or arrested for sleeping outside. Local government officials, including some in Kansas City, say enforcement of encampments is needed to address the crisis. But advocates say criminalization is a waste of resources.

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments last week on what experts are calling the most significant case on homelessness in decades. Up for debate: whether cities can punish unhoused people for sleeping outside.

The Supreme Court appeared in favor of overturning a lower court decision that ruled it unconstitutional for cities to clear homeless encampments if adequate shelter is not available.

Josh Henges, the houseless prevention coordinator for Kansas City, says his office has anticipated this decision for some time and has been working with local law enforcement on how to clear homeless camps without criminalizing people.

"It means we're showing up to encampments and saying 'what do you need getting folks connected?', that is the absolute best way to resolve this," Henges told KCUR's Up To Date. "Handcuffs aren't going to work. Jail's not going to work. Fines aren't going to work, they're not going to pay them."

Stephanie Boyer, the CEO of reStart, one of the metro's largest homeless service providers, says homelessness won't be solved by forcing people off the streets.

"Homelessness is a housing problem," Boyer told Up To Date. "For too much time, we've just tried to sort of band aid along the way, and have not put significant investments in the actual solution."

The Supreme Court's decision will come as homelessness in the country is at a record high, with more than 650,000 Americans living in shelters, tents and cars.

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When I host Up To Date each morning at 9, my aim is to engage the community in conversations about the Kansas City area’s challenges, hopes and opportunities. I try to ask the questions that listeners want answered about the day’s most pressing issues and provide a place for residents to engage directly with newsmakers. Reach me at steve@kcur.org or on Twitter @stevekraske.
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