Handcuffed and Unhoused

Handcuffed and Unhoused

By The Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX

Up and down the West Coast, cities are struggling with homelessness. Here's a hidden side: arrests. In Portland, Oregon, unhoused people made up at most 2% of the population in recent years, but over the same time, they accounted for nearly half of all arrests. Cities have long turned to police as the answer to make homelessness disappear. But arrests often lead back to the streets – or worse. 

Reveal looked at six major West Coast cities and found that people living on the streets are consistently more likely to be arrested than their neighbors who live in houses. And places including Portland, San Francisco and Los Angeles are 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 available for them. In Portland, the city is building what it calls "villages" where people who are unhoused can stay temporarily. But there is pushback from residents who don’t want a shelter in their neighborhood, and do expect police to be part of the response to homelessness. Reporter Melissa Lewis tells the story of all these intersecting parts.  

She follows one man’s journey through the criminal justice system as he tries to disentangle himself from arrest warrants that keep accumulating. She talks with 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. And we learn the commitment that it takes to move off the street, one person at a time.  

This is an update of an episode that first aired in December 2021.

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