Housing Justice Advocates Sue Missouri Over Harmful Homelessness Law

JEFFERSON CITY, MO – Housing justice advocates and taxpayers filed a lawsuit today in Missouri state court challenging a Missouri law that will harm people who are unhoused or unstably housed. Among other things, the law makes it a crime to sleep on state-owned land without authorization and places strict restrictions on the use of state funds for the homeless, including by barring use of such funds for the construction of permanent housing.

The law’s provisions on homelessness were enacted as part of House Bill 1606 (H.B. 1606), which states in its title that it is enacting “fifty new sections relating to political subdivisions” and which primarily contains provisions concerning political subdivisions.

The lawsuit alleges that, by including the provisions on homelessness, many of which have nothing to do with political subdivisions, H.B. 1606 violates three requirements in the Missouri Constitution: 1) a requirement that bills contain no more than one subject; 2) a requirement that the bill’s subject be clearly expressed in its title; and 3) a prohibition on the General Assembly amending bills so as to change their original purpose. These requirements are intended to ensure that members of the legislature and public are fairly informed of a bill’s contents.

The plaintiffs in the case are Missouri residents Johnathan Byrd, Jessica Honeycutt, and Allison Miles. They are represented by Legal Service of Eastern Missouri and Public Citizen Litigation Group.

“Missouri already has an extreme shortage of housing for people with low incomes,” said Amanda Schneider, an attorney at Legal Services of Eastern Missouri. “This legislation will reduce access to housing and criminalize the unhoused in the middle of our affordable housing crisis.”

“The Missouri Constitution contains several protections to ensure that legislators and members of the public are not misled about the purposes and effects of proposed legislation,” said Adina H. Rosenbaum, an attorney at Public Citizen Litigation Group. “By hiding provisions on homelessness in a bill that, as a whole, addresses a different subject, H.B. 1606 violates the state Constitution.”

“This anti-homeless law will enact policy violence on people who are unhoused,” said Byrd. “I believe Missouri can and should do better by our neighbors who are struggling to find housing after a global pandemic and a time of unprecedented instability.”

“I work with people who are unhoused on a daily basis and I know HB 1606 will make their lives more difficult,” said Honeycutt. “Making people criminals because they have to sleep outside is inhumane.”