Supreme Court Keeps Previous Ruling, Preventing Homeless People from Getting Ticketed for Sleeping Outside



Kimberly Garcia, Contributor

On December 16, 2019, The Supreme Court refused to hear a case from Boise, Idaho that would make sleeping in public spaces illegal. The decision to keep the ruling from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is a hinderance for state and local governments, which are trying to control their homeless populations by implementing restrictions on makeshift encampments in public areas.

The case originated from a lawsuit from about a decade ago. People sued the city of Boise for giving them tickets for violating an ordinance against sleeping outside. City officials changed it to prevent tickets when the city’s shelters are overpopulated, and the 9th Circuit determined the local law to be unconstitutional later on. The court decided last year that it violated the 8th Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishments, by enforcing rules that prevent homeless folks from making their own shelter when they have nothing else, meaning that states across the 9th Circuit can’t enforce similar laws if there aren’t enough shelter beds for homeless people sleeping outside.

The attorney representing the city of Boise in the case, Los Angeles-native Theane Evangelis, said the decision harms the people it means to protect at the end of the day, as cities need the ability to limit encampments that jeopardize public safety.  Lawyers representing the city of Boise have said in court documents that, “Public encampments, now protected by the Constitution under the Ninth Circuit’s decision, have spawned crime and violence, incubated disease, and created environmental hazards that threaten the lives and well-being both of those living on the streets and the public at large.” Bigger cities along the west coast with high homeless populations, such as Los Angeles, sided with Boise in the petition.

Advocates for the homeless, however, argue that criminalizing homelessness fights the victims of the problem and not the problem itself. The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, which was one of the three groups who originally filed the case back in 2009, acclaimed the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the case as necessary to encourage cities to propose better ways to handle homelessness. 

According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development found that more than 550,000 people experienced homelessness in January 2018; nearly 200,000 were unsheltered.

Information Source: NPR

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