Media Contact

Ari Mischik, ACLU of New Hampshire,
Dawn McKinney, NH Legal Assistance,

July 2, 2024

Following U.S. Supreme Court decision on homelessness, letter urges local officials to refrain from increased civil and criminal enforcement to address the needs of the unhoused population in Manchester

MANCHESTER, N.H. - The ACLU of New Hampshire and New Hampshire Legal Assistance yesterday sent a letter to Manchester Mayor Jay Ruais and the Manchester Board of Mayor and Aldermen urging the Board to refrain from making any changes to the city’s laws on homelessness in response to last week’s U.S. Supreme Court decision in City of Grants Pass v. Johnson.

The organizations sent the letter following public statements from Mayor Ruais that he would ask the Aldermen to ban camping in the city even if unhoused individuals had no shelter space to access  – a move which would effectively criminalize homelessness. This would give law enforcement the ability to punish unhoused individuals for sleeping in public spaces when they had nowhere else to go. 

“Whatever the United States Supreme Court may say about the Eighth Amendment, elected officials have always had a choice. They can decide to invest in solutions—like safe, long-term housing and low-barrier shelters, as well as wrap-around services and voluntary mental health and substance use treatment—which will increase people’s chances of obtaining employment and housing,” the letter states.

The letter outlines three distinct reasons why Manchester officials should invest in community solutions rather than civil or criminal enforcement:

  1. Section 130.13(B) of Manchester’s City Ordinances entitled “camping in public places” commendably recognizes the humanity of unhoused individuals and provides important protections by barring enforcement of its anti-camping provisions unless there is an “available overnight shelter.” Were the Board to remove these protections, they would be sanctioning the eviction and criminalization of unhoused individuals where there is no adequate shelter space available. To do so in the absence of adequate shelter space would be cruel.
  2. Independent of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Eighth Amendment analysis in Grants Pass, Manchester officials should be aware that any local efforts to criminalize the unhoused may still violate the New Hampshire Constitution.
  3. Responding to homelessness with police and jails does nothing to solve the homelessness crisis and rather only fuels mass incarceration, keeping people in an endless cycle of poverty, and institutionalization. Housing costs in Manchester have skyrocketed while wages have not kept pace, and the state is facing extreme housing shortages. As a result, protecting unhoused people’s rights and adopting effective approaches to reducing and preventing homelessness is something we should all be invested in.