Cruel and Unusual Punishment

By Jennifer Evans, Associate for Communications and National Partnerships

Housing not handcuffs rally in Louisville, KY.


On a sunny day in Louisville, a large crowd of local housing advocates, citizens — both housed and unhoused — and local officials came together to demand Housing Not Handcuffs. At this rally, some of the most vulnerable in our community shared gut-wrenching stories of their personal experience with being unhoused. The rally was intended to raise awareness of the Grants Pass v. Johnson case, speak truth to power and stand in solidarity with our unhoused neighbors.

In late April, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the Grants Pass v. Johnson case to determine whether it is cruel and unusual punishment to criminalize unhoused people for sleeping outside when they have nowhere else to go. This ruling will set the stage for the most significant decision on the rights of people who are unhoused in decades. The case concerns whether or not the city of Grants Pass, Oregon (and others around the country) violates the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment when it fines, arrests or incarcerates people who are involuntarily unhoused. It’s important to note that the city of Grants Pass has no public shelter, and many shelters around the country simply can’t accommodate everyone.

There are 31,412 new affordable housing units needed for the poorest* Louisville families (*Households making 30% AMI, about $20,000 a year).

According to a 2022 collaborative report produced by the Coalition for the Homeless, homelessness in Louisville increased by 41% over the past three years, with nearly 5,000% more people seeking services other than shelter in 2021 compared with 2018.

Additionally, the case also has larger implications for how local, state and federal officials interpret “cruel and unusual punishment.” This could cause ramifications across the justice system, including conditions in prisons and the death penalty.

As people of faith, we know the truth: It is inhumane and ineffective to criminalize people who are suffering from housing instability, especially when shelters are full and housing is limited. The rallying call for Housing Not Handcuffs and a housing-first approach is an effective and dignified way to address the issue of houselessness.

Working to increase affordable housing, education, health care, employment, income, and other support services improves society and helps create space for all our neighbors to live with dignity.

So, what can you do?

  1. Listen and learn more about houselessness in your area. Start here
  2. Consider becoming a Congregation-Based Community Organizing (CBCO) group to help shape compassionate local policies. Visit
  3. Explore what other congregations are doing about affordable housing. Go to


The average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Louisville is $1,226 (while federal housing vouchers pay only $918).


God of justice,

We find our home in you.

Help us never be satisfied while others are unhoused or hungry.

Thank you for the ability to come together in community to shape a more just world.

Help us build power by listening to each other’s stories and joining with unhoused neighbors, advocates and other people of faith to find dignified solutions.

Give us the courage to exercise power by showing up to hold leaders and policymakers accountable.

Guide us as we collectively build a safer and more sustainable future for generations to come.


In 2021, 10,640 Louisvillians experienced homelessness.

The work of the Presbyterian Hunger Program is possible thanks to your gifts to One Great Hour of Sharing.