housing action


Toolkit to Combat the Criminalization of Homelessness

Many lawmakers and community members would like to combat homelessness in effective ways, but pervasive myths and stereotypes about chronic homelessness must first be addressed, or we risk the pursuit of 'solutions'—like criminalization—that only exacerbate the problem and lead to more human suffering.

This toolkit is designed to help advocates, direct service providers and other community stakeholders to:

  • Articulate the harms that the criminalization of homelessness causes and educate decision makers about alternatives, using local and statewide data and lived experiences.

  • Develop effective relationships to move key decision makers.

  • Respond to common myths that underlie criminalization policies, and advance a new public narrative about ending chronic homelessness.


View the full Toolkit

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Chronic Homelessness and Criminalization in Washington
  3. Educating Decision Makers
  4. Using Media to Elevate Your Message
  5. Putting It Into Practice: Myths and Facts of Homelessness
  6. Closing
  7. Appendix
  8. Endnotes


  • Strategy Development Chart
  • Steps to Develop a Strategic Political Landscape Power Analysis
  • Reaching Your Audience: A Media Guide
  • Myths and Facts of Homelessness in Washington State
  • Cycle of the Criminalization of Homelessness
  • Competing Narratives on Ending Homelessness
  • Checklist for Planning a Lawmaker Meeting

Washington State Housing Needs Assessment:

  • Clark County
  • King County
  • Kitsap County
  • Pierce County
  • Snohomish County
  • Spokane County
  • Thurston County
  • Whatcom County
  • Yakima County
  • All Other Counties


This project was started through the work of the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS), who works in partnership with agencies, organizations, and private entities to provide care and health services to various populations throughout the state. DSHS has a long history of working with individuals and families experiencing homelessness. DSHS’ Washington BRIDGES Project tackles chronic homelessness. Funding for this toolkit comes from Grant Number T1025342 from the Substance Abuse Mental Health System Administration (SAMHSA). The views and opinions contained in this publication do not necessarily reflect those of SAMHSA or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The Housing Alliance would like to thank the many who contributed to this project including the members of the Housing Alliance’s Homelessness Advisory Committee (HAC), graduates of the Housing Alliance’s Emerging Advocates Program (EAP) and participants in the Resident Action Project (RAP). Specifically, we would like to acknowledge:

  • Sam Adams, Northwest Justice Project, Olympia
  • Cindy Algeo, Spokane Low Income Housing Consortium, Spokane
  • Kari Chapman, Catholic Charities of Spokane
  • Alison Eisinger, Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness
  • Mary Forbes, Washington Department of Veterans Affairs, Seattle (BRIDGES grantee)
  • Megan Gibbard, All Home
  • Thomas Green, EAP
  • Vicki Howell, Catholic Community Services of Western Washington, Snohomish (BRIDGES grantee)
  • Bryan Ketcham, Catholic Charities, Yakima
  • Kirk McClain, EAP and HAC
  • Sara Rankin, Seattle University School of Law
  • Susan Russell, EAP
  • Kristina Sawyckyj
  • Andy Silver, Council for the Homeless, Vancouver
  • Naomi Strand, St. Vincent de Paul, Seattle
  • Tamra Thomas, Veterans Administration
  • Alex West
  • Greg Winter, Opportunity Council, Bellingham

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