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Combatting Poverty and Decriminalizing Homelessness Through a Race Equity Lens

The Commission on Homelessness and Poverty's resource clearinghouse


Poverty and homelessness in the United States are largely outgrowths of institutionalized racism. Inequity in housing, education, healthcare and wealth creation is inextricable from that which fuels police brutality, mass incarceration of Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (“BIPOC”), and the criminalization of poverty. Instead of addressing the inequities in those systems, our national, state, and local governments have tasked our criminal justice system to police and punish those who have suffered the most. As a profession, we must recognize our role in creating and perpetuating this system. 

This Commission was established to be the voice of the Association on matters related to homelessness and poverty and to fiercely advocate for the policies leading to their end. Consistent with that duty, we urge consideration of the resources on this page to assist in taking action equal to the moral imperative of the ongoing movement occasioned by the continued criminalization of homelessness and poverty and its disproportionate effect on BIPOC. 

Anti-Poverty Initiative 

Collaborate to Advocate Initiative

Nearly 50 million Americans now live below the federal poverty line. Recent societal, economic, and political events have generated unprecedented public awareness of historic levels of income inequality, children in poverty, and disparate treatment and impacts of the law and justice systems on communities of color and populations that face other barriers and obstacles to justice. The Commission is identifying, promoting and implementing best practices for eliminating legal and justice system-related policies, practices and procedures that perpetuate or worsen the harmful effects of poverty and discrimination. Learn more here: Anti-Poverty Collaborate to Advocate One Pager

Anti-Poverty Toolkit

Toolkit for Communities Seeking to Develop and Operationalize Local Anti-Poverty Agendas: A Blueprint for Action

  • Anti-Poverty Toolkit This toolkit was created in partnership with anti-poverty stakeholders across the nation whom the Commission convened at Anti-Poverty Roundtables. The toolkit does not purport to provide all the answers to eliminating poverty; rather, it serves as a humble compilation of best practices we've encountered thus far.
  • Tips on Legislative Advocacy

Blueprints for Action:

1. Substandard and unaffordable housing and homelessness

2. Disproportionate involvement in criminal and civil justice systems

3. Food inadequacy

4. Inadequate healthcare and poor health outcomes

5. Inadequate education outcomes

6. Lack of opportunity for full employment at a living wage

7. Living through an unending and continuous cycle of crises

8. Lack of personal and physical safety

9. Stigma and lack of personal dignity

10. Isolation from community and political infrastructure

Alternatives to the Criminalization of Homelessness and Poverty

People of color are not only disproportionately affected by poverty, they're also disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system. Outstanding criminal charges (like trespassing, fines, fees, etc.) are often barriers to housing, employment and other vital resources. Homeless Courts resolve these barriers to stability through recognizing voluntary, individualized action to satisfy fines, fees, and case dismissal.

Homeless Court and Pre-Booking Diversion Resources




Webinar Recording: Emerging Innovative Racial Equity Focused Initiatives for Youth: Spotlight on Los Angeles, CA  (December 2020)

The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America (November 17, 2020)


Montgomery County, Maryland, Community Forum: Alternatives to the Criminalization of Homelessness (April 26, 2019, Rockville, Maryland)


Combatting the Criminalization of Homelessness: The Role of Young Lawyers


Class-Crits Annual Symposium, New Orleans, Louisiana (November)

Collaborate to Advocate:  Washington, DC (April): Agenda & Briefing BookReport from Summit


Collaborate to Advocate: Birmingham, ALSelma, ALMontgomery, AL (April)

 ARTICLE: Anti-poverty movement draws Alabama activists

View other Commission programming here

Racial Equity in the Justice System

The ABA's central clearinghouse of ABA-related information and resources for attorneys, the legal profession and the public on a wealth of issues addressing bias, racism and prejudice in the justice system and society.

Click here to view the ABA's Task Force on Building Trust in the American Justice System 2017 Report. 

Click here to view the ABA-NAACP Legal Defense Fund joint statement on Eliminating Bias in the Criminal Justice System (2015).

Other Content

(Report) Conviction, Imprisonment, and Lost Earnings: How Involvement with the Criminal Justice System Deepens Inequality, September 2020 (Brennan Center for Justice)