From a Criminal to a Human-Rights Issue: Re-Imagining Policy Solutions to Homelessness

Criminalizing homelessness is ineffective, costly, and immoral; yet it remains a dominant feature in the management of this global social issue. There has been little analysis investigating why punitive homeless policies have remained popular despite their ineffectiveness. In applying Bacchi's What's the Problem Represented to Be (WPR) framework to a Canadian encampment bylaw, our analysis demonstrated that public policies criminalizing homelessness continue to prevail because homelessness is fundamentally understood as a problem of deviant, criminal individual behavior. We argue that reframing understandings of homelessness from one of criminality to a human rights issue gives way to more dignified, just, and effective solutions, such as the Housing First Model. We suggest that community health nurses can serve a key role in disrupting these criminalizing discourses across domains of policy, research, and practice by advocating for holistic, rights-based, and equity-oriented policy solutions related to homelessness.

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Policy, Politics, & Nursing Practice