Stay Awake or Be Arrested?

 In Reflections
Reflections from the Front Lines

Stay Awake or Be Arrested?

An unwavering commitment to providing space to sleep without fear.

Reflections from the front lines serving individuals experiencing homelessness in the Phoenix monsoon, in the aftermath of a disheartening Supreme Court ruling, and the questions of consequences from a Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation of the City of Phoenix.

At the Key Campus we continue to shelter about 900 people nightly in four different spaces. The immediate neighborhood is sparse when it comes to tents and structures. At times sixty to eighty to one hundred people are counted by our Outreach Team in the morning, the folks that can’t get in to shelter or aren’t ready for shelter. Beyond the Campus area the Team is engaging more than 600 people who are spread out in alleys, along canals, anywhere they can hunker down and avoid being seen.

The DOJ released its report on June 13 with several conclusions, including “PhxPD and the City unlawfully detain, cite, and arrest people experiencing homelessness and unlawfully dispose of their belongings.” The report states “between January 2016 and March 2022, people who were homeless accounted for over one-third—37%—of all PhxPD misdemeanor arrests and citations.”

It’s not in my purview to fact check the DOJ findings. Most of anything I could say in response is solely my opinion.

What I can say for a fact is that the City of Phoenix did create an Office of Homeless Solutions between the data point referenced above and the release of their report. And that Office did create a dignified way to remove the encampment of at times 800 to 1,000 people around Key Campus. I cannot speak to what happens anywhere else in the City. I can also say that the Phoenix Police Officers that I know do not want to be monitoring the unhoused, telling people to move/ pack up/ leave, and they do not want to be ticketing and arresting people for minor offenses that do not result in ending a person’s homelessness.

In the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) case, Johnson v. Grants Pass, the Court ruled that homeless people are not protected under the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The ruling means that cities are allowed to punish people who sleep in public spaces, whether or not there are sufficient, adequate, indoor shelter beds.

I have been largely speechless on the SCOTUS ruling. My first reactions are not publishable. Given the more than 1,000 organizations nationally that submitted 40 amicus briefs in support of Gloria Johnson and the rights of people experiencing homelessness, it feels like a punch to the gut. Three of the SCOTUS justices dissented. Justice Sotomayor wrote a dissenting opinion that demonstrates she GETS IT. She understands the issues. Her opinion includes, “Instead, the majority focuses almost exclusively on the needs of local governments and leaves the most vulnerable in our society with an impossible choice: Either stay awake or be arrested.” (source:

“Stay awake or be arrested.”

Gloria Johnson, by the way, real person. A human being who lives in Grants Pass, OR. Punished for being homeless.

What may be most frustrating to me is that in all of these cases and in the legalese, even with testimony and human faces telling their stories, the impact on human life is seemingly ignored. Lawsuits won’t end homelessness. Local, superior court, and SCOTUS decisions and rulings will not end homelessness. DOJ investigations that take years will not end homelessness. Government responding to and participating in these processes will not end homelessness. There is no magic wand that will be waved and create legal policy, procedure, regulation, ruling, that will end homelessness.

That’s my most frequent thought. The reaction that if I speak it out loud causes my voice to elevate in volume and pitch. There’s the answer to “what do you think, Amy?”

Our collective time, energy, and tax payer dollars spent in legal proceedings will not end homelessness. Redirecting our resources toward solutions may reduce and end homelessness. It’s a lot of hard work. No magic wand. No easy button. No court of law. No law enforcement agency. Hard work with collective action is what it will take.

At Keys to Change we serve people who need assistance with short term shelter and connection to housing, so that they can sleep without fear.

About Keys to Change and Key Campus

Keys to Change (formerly HSC, Inc.) is the overarching organization that owns and manages Key Campus (formerly Human Services Campus) where 15 independent nonprofit organizations power a collaborative force united on one campus to end homelessness. Located just west of downtown Phoenix, Key Campus sees more than 1,000 individuals every day, offering a holistic range of client services including: reunification with family and friends; mental, physical and dental health; shelter; employment; meals; legal services and housing. Having all of these resources in one location with intra-agency communications makes it more feasible to provide a customized engagement for each client to help end their homelessness. Keys to Change is a compassionate connector and strategic partner in a leadership role working to end homelessness. For more information, visit

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