Living homeless and relentless cops

Housed and Unhinged

As homelessness rises, unhoused people often get entangled in a criminal justice cycle that leads back to the streets – or worse.

In Portland, Oregon, unhoused people make up at most 2% of the population, but they account for nearly half of all arrests. Cities have long turned to police as the mechanism for making homelessness disappear. But arrests don’t solve a housing crisis. 

Reveal looked at six major cities up and down the West Coast and found that people living on the streets are consistently more likely to be arrested than their neighbors who live in houses. At the same time, places such as Portland, San Francisco and Los Angeles are now grappling with a major court decision. In 2019, the Supreme Court let a ruling stand that says it’s cruel and unusual punishment to arrest people who are sleeping or camping in public places if there is no shelter for them to stay. In Portland, the city is trying to build more shelters, but there is pushback from residents who don’t want a shelter in their neighborhood. People are growing frustrated, and they want the problem to go away. Reporter Melissa Lewis tells the story of these intersecting parts after spending months talking to unhoused people who go to weekly dinners at a neighborhood park.  

Lewis follows one man’s journey through the criminal justice system as he tries to disentangle himself from arrest warrants that keep accumulating after he misses court dates and fails to check in with his probation officer. We also hear from locals who are trying to build trust and connection with their houseless neighbors and others who are tired of seeing tents and call the police for help. We also hear what it takes to move someone off the street, one person at a time.