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Most cities fine and even jail homeless people for living outside on the assumption that their alternative is to access homeless shelters. This brief finds that assumption deeply flawed. This first-ever study of shelters discloses that shelters have insufficient beds to meet the demand, and rules that bar entry to many homeless people. Most shelters only serve single males or females — they automatically exclude families, LGBTQ youth, and couples. For many then, shelters are not an alternative. The brief offers several recommendations to encourage cities to stop criminalizing homelessness and to instead pursue non-punitive alternatives.

Keywords: Shelter, Homeless, Constitutional Law, Housing