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‘Ville Prof Watching Supreme Court Case on Homelessness

Dr. Jennifer Frank, associate professor in the School of Social Work at Millersville University is closely watching Supreme Court case on homelessness.

Homelessness is an artifact of extreme poverty, and it is an indicator that something isn’t right in our society,” says Dr. Jennifer Frank

The United States Supreme Court is expected to rule on a homelessness case in late June this year. Dr. Jennifer Frank, an associate professor in the School of Social Work at Millersville University, is closely watching that case.

The case, Johnson vs. Grants Pass, stems from a 2018 lawsuit challenging ordinances that ban camping even when there are no beds available in a homeless shelter. The Supreme Court will consider whether to allow broader punishment for people camping in public spaces.

Because of her work and research on homelessness in the U.S. for many years, Frank was invited to review and sign an amicus brief. An amicus brief is not part of a legal case but is permitted to assist the court by offering information and expertise on a subject.

“The case basically will decide if laws criminalizing homelessness, punishing people for sleeping outside when no safe or accessible shelter is available, is a violation of the 8th Amendment, which protects against cruel and unusual punishment,” explains Frank.

Homelessness is a topic that comes up frequently in most of Frank’s classes at MU, including policy courses and elective courses on homelessness in the U.S., which will be offered this fall semester of 2024.

Frank shares her strong beliefs on why the public should care about homelessness, “I suppose the answer to this question appeals to our sense of morality and justice. When even one person is destitute and vulnerable it should matter to all of us. We are all connected by a shared humanity, and we need to take care of each other. In some ways, homelessness is an artifact of extreme poverty, and it is an indicator that something isn’t right in our society if people can’t meet their own basic needs of housing, food and healthcare.”

This issue concerning homelessness can be found in the surrounding community of MU. “We do have a problem with homelessness in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and in most areas of the United States. On a single night in Lancaster during 2023, 526 individuals were homeless, and 107 individuals were unsheltered. Up from 20 the year before,” says Frank.

Frank believes criminalization is not the answer, “It not only fails to correct the issue of homelessness, but it does real harm to the community.”

The lower courts sided with the homeless residents. Now, Grants Pass is asking the Supreme Court to overturn that ruling.

 

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