Statement on Johnson v. Grants Pass

Upcoming Supreme Court decision on homelessness case could disproportionately impact the disability community

The American Association on Health and Disability signed on to an Amicus brief submitted by DREDF to the Supreme Court in the case Johnson v. Grants Pass. As a signatory to this brief, AAHD wants to reinforce a message to the Supreme Court that our national responses to homelessness are a critical disability justice issue. Housing remains a critical driver of health equity[i] that must be understood as integral to our national conversation around homelessness and health.

About the Case

The Supreme Court hearing for Johnson v. Grants Pass took place on April 22nd, 2024. A decision is anticipated by the end of the court’s term no later than June 30th. This decision has the potential to criminalize unsheltered homelessness across the United States. Originating in the city of Grants Pass, Oregon, this case emerged from the city’s decision to ticket people for sleeping outside, leaving them with fines and potential jail time. Given the lack of affordable and accessible housing units available across the country, we are concerned about the implications that this decision will have for people with disabilities. As a community, those of us with disabilities face greater risks of sleeping in public spaces due to unaffordable and inaccessible housing and shelters, and other critical barriers to accessing adequate support and health services.

Homelessness on the Rise

A rise in homelessness, especially for people with disabilities, has been evident in the last few years. According to the 2023 Point in Time Count, over 650,000 people were experiencing homelessness in January 2023, which marked a 12% increase from 2022. From 2022 to 2023, we saw a 6% increase in the number of people sleeping in unsheltered locations in just that year, which jumped to just under one-quarter of the unhoused population nationwide in 2023.[ii] This same report noted that 31% of this population was chronically homeless.[iii] Chronic homelessness is when a person has experienced homelessness for at least one year while having a disability, mental illness, or substance use disorder.[iv] Chronically homeless individuals are the most likely to sleep in unsheltered locations, putting them at an even greater risk of criminalization for sleeping outside. Without adequate supportive housing opportunities, accessible shelters or the economic means to afford market rate housing, many people with disabilities are unable to access the housing and care that they need.

Housing barriers for people with disabilities are often tied to limited availability of accessible units, and the challenge of securing appropriate housing relying on disability benefits alone. Across the United States, there is currently no housing market affordable to people who solely subsist on Supplemental Security Income (SSI) without additional rental assistance. As of January 2024, over 7.4 million people benefit from this program.[v]  SSI is a critical source of monthly financial assistance to people with disabilities and people 65 and older who are low income. However, the average 1-bedroom rental unit costs $1,398 per month, which amounts to 142% of the standard SSI income for people with disabilities (payments are $983/month).[vi] Millions of people with disabilities who receive SSI alone are often priced out of the housing market completely, putting them at a much higher risk of homelessness. While rental assistance can be an important supplement to this income, only 1 in 4 eligible households receive it.[vii]

According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, housing is considered affordable when a household spends no more than 30% of their income on housing-related costs. When rental costs rise above 30%, a household is considered cost burdened. According to a 2023 policy brief, “over 35% of urban adults with disabilities and nearly 30% of rural adults with disabilities are housing cost burdened.[viii]” Compounding the challenge of housing access is the limited stock of accessible units. Less than 1% of housing units are accessible for wheelchair users in the United States. Less than 5% of housing units are considered accessible for people with mobility disabilities in general. People with disabilities face a greater risk of housing discrimination as well, which can contribute to the risk of homelessness. Supports that could be available to people with disabilities are not fully funded, as there are 18 million people with disabilities in the U.S. that are eligible for federal housing assistance but do not receive any related support.[ix] For the disability community at large, access to housing remains a critical unmet need.

From 2013 to 2018, the city of Grants Pass, Oregon issued over 500 citations for camping and sleeping in public spaces around the city, often with fines attached.[x] The city implemented an initial $295 fine that then increased to $537.60 if unpaid.[xi] After two fines, law enforcement could issue an exclusion order, rendering the person guilty of criminal trespass if they remained on public property. Each count of criminal trespass could be punishable with up to 30 days in jail and a $1,250 fine.[xii] Given some of the housing access challenges formerly mentioned, these numbers demonstrate the harsh ways that experiences of homelessness can lead to criminalization. Punitive fines place people without housing in a constant cycle of poverty, and as is argued in the amicus brief, these penalties amount to a violation of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against excessive fines and cruel and unusual punishment.

A large proportion of the unhoused population also includes those with mental health conditions. People with certain mental health conditions like schizophrenia are disproportionately likely to face homelessness. HUD data shows that 20% of the U.S. homeless population has a serious mental health disability.[xiii] Along with bipolar and schizoaffective disorders, these conditions are some of the most common psychiatric diagnoses experienced in the homeless population, and often co-occur with physical health conditions, substance use, and disabilities that may impact access to housing and employment.[xiv] As more cities and states consider punitive measures to address rising homelessness, we affirm the importance of people with disabilities having access to community-based supports that include appropriate housing and health services.

Housing for Health

Housing First programs are a critical resource that could support people with mental and physical disabilities while supporting health outcomes. This approach offers long-term housing stability for those who experience chronic homelessness, especially for those who have disabilities. This approach differs from more contemporary models that are linear and address chronic homelessness though a “treatment first” approach, in which individuals must be treated for underlying health issues first before qualifying for permanent housing. With Housing First, a person receives housing as the first step towards managing other long-term health needs. This approach greatly increases housing stability and helps decrease rates of homelessness through the facilitation of secondary health outcomes and reduction of costly emergency healthcare services. [xv]  Whether navigating a mental or physical health challenge, people with disabilities deserve accessible and continuous care through permanent supportive housing programs.[xvi]

We understand the importance of social drivers like housing for attaining good health and affirm the importance of expanding appropriate supports and services for those living with mental and physical disabilities. As we look ahead to the Supreme Court decision in this case, we uphold these words from the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities:

The relationship between poverty, homelessness and disability is well recognized. Persons with intellectual or psychosocial disabilities are overrepresented among the homeless population. When the State fails to secure income and housing assistance to this population, it is likely they will end up involuntarily committed or institutionalized. Furthermore, homeless persons with disabilities are continuously exposed to the risk of being deprived of their liberty, as survival behaviours (e.g. begging, sleeping in public spaces, sitting down on sidewalks, loitering) are treated as criminal activity under laws that criminalize homelessness.

Deprivation of liberty on the basis of impairment is not a “necessary evil” but a consequence of the failure of States to ensure their human rights obligations towards persons with disabilities…States [should] [c]onduct a comprehensive legislative review process to abolish all laws and regulations that allow for deprivation of liberty on the basis of impairment or in combination with other factors; end all forms of coercive practices, including in mental health settings, and guarantee respect for a person’s informed consent at all times;… [and] refrain from allocating funding to services infringing the right to liberty and security of persons with disabilities and progressively increase funds allocated to fund research and technical assistance towards ending all disability-specific forms of deprivation of liberty, and to ensure access of persons with disabilities to community-based services and social protection programmes.[xvii]

Learn more about Johnson v. Grants Pass and action steps you can take to be involved with this decision.

This statement was co-authored by Michelle Sayles and Nuria Piracha.

Contact: Michelle Sayles,; 301-545-6140




[i] Swope CB, Hernández D. Housing as a determinant of health equity: A conceptual model. Soc Sci Med. 2019 Dec;243:112571. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2019.112571. Epub 2019 Sep 25. PMID: 31675514; PMCID: PMC7146083.

[ii] U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development. (2023). HUD Releases January 2023 Point-in-Time Count Report. HUD No. 23-278, HUD Public Affairs.

[iii] U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. (2023). The 2023 Annual Homelessness Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress.

[iv] Natonal Alliance to End Homelessness. Chronically Homeless. (2023).

[v] Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. (2024). Policy Basics: Supplemental Security Income.

[vi] Technical Assistance Collaborative. 2024. Priced Out: The Housing Crisis for People with Disabilities.

[vii] Gartland, Erik. (2022). Chart Book: Funding Limitations Create Widespread Unmet Need for Rental Assistance.” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

[viii] Swendener A, Rydberg K, Tuttle M, Yam H, and Henning-Smith C. Crowded Housing and Housing Cost Burden by Disability, Race, Ethnicity, and Rural-Urban Location. UMN Rural Health Research Center Policy Brief. March 2023.

[ix] Popkin, S.J., et al. (2022). People with Disabilities Living in the U.S. Face Urgent Barriers to Housing: Federal Programs Are Not Meeting the Housing Needs of Disabled People. Urban Institute.

[x] KGW8. (2024). Rural Oregon city’s legal case could set new precedent for fining homeless people for sleeping outside.

[xi] City of Grants Pass, Oregon v. Gloria Johnson and John Logan on Behalf of Themselves and All Others Similarly Situated. No. 23-175.

[xii] City of Grants Pass, Oregon v. Gloria Johnson and John Logan on Behalf of Themselves and All Others Similarly Situated. Page 4. No. 23-175.

[xiii] Tars, E., et al. The Criminalization of Homelessness and Mental Health in the United States. (2023). National Homelessness Law Center.

[xiv] Ayano G, Tesfaw G, Shumet S. The prevalence of schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders among homeless people: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Psychiatry. 2019 Nov 27;19(1):370. doi: 10.1186/s12888-019-2361-7. PMID: 31775786; PMCID: PMC6880407.

[xv] Office of Policy Development and Research. (2023). Evidence Matters: Transforming Knowledge Into Housing and Community Development Policy. Housing First: A Review of the Evidence.

[xvi] NAEH. (2021). Data Visualization: The Evidence on Housing First. National Alliance to End Homelessness.

[xvii] Hum. Rts. Council, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Catalina Devandas, Deprivation of liberty of persons with disabilities, ¶ 33., U.N. Doc. A/HRC/40/54 (Jan. 11, 2019).