A think tank created by a Palantir co-founder is behind a slew of bills criminalizing homeless encampments

A think tank created by a Palantir co-founder is behind a slew of bills criminalizing homeless encampments
A Seattle Police officer walks past a woman packing up her belongings as a homeless encampment is cleared Monday, May 4, 2020, at Ballard Commons Park in Seattle.AP Photo/Ted S. Warren
  • Legislation criminalizing homeless encampments is proliferating across the country.
  • A think tank created by a Palantir co-founder is behind model legislation banning "public camping."

Homelessness continues to be a crisis across America. Many states and cities have taken a punitive approach to the problem, making homeless encampments illegal.

A think tank created by Palantir co-founder Joe Lonsdale has been pushing those laws.

The Austin-based Cicero Institute has worked for several years to pass laws in a slew of states criminalizing "public camping," levying fines and jail time against those who seek shelter in outdoor public places, Vice recently reported.

In 2021, Texas became the first state to pass a Cicero-inspired state-wide law, making public camping a Class C misdemeanor punishable with up to a $500 fine. The law also blocks local governments from adopting less stringent punishments by stripping state funding for any city that doesn't implement it.

"This law seeks to push Texans experiencing homelessness out of sight. And, if they don't comply with the ban, it criminalizes their living condition," Eric Samuels, president and CEO of the Texas Homeless Network, said in a statement at the time. The Texas law was passed after Austin, which is facing a severe shortage of affordable housing, ended its ban on homeless encampments in 2019 and then voted to reinstate it in 2021.


Missouri passed a version of Cicero's model bill late last year. Several other states — including Kansas, Georgia, Arizona, Wisconsin, and Oklahoma — have also proposed legislation based on Cicero's bill, Stateline found.

Critics argue the legislation hides homelessness, but doesn't effectively address it. By giving those experiencing homelessness criminal records, it also makes it even more difficult for individuals to find permanent shelter and employment.

Cicero is opposed to permanent supportive housing for those experiencing homelessness, despite significant evidence that "housing first" policies addressing chronic homelessness are more effective.

The Cicero Institute didn't immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.

Palantir, the tech giant also founded by GOP mega-donor Peter Thiel, works with various law enforcement agencies and governments on massive data and surveillance projects.