Ninth Circuit rules that cities can’t prosecute homeless for sleeping on the streets

This will no doubt help keep the homeless industrial complex alive.

From Fox News: Cities can’t prosecute people for sleeping on the streets if they have nowhere else to go because it amounts to cruel and unusual punishment, which is unconstitutional, a federal appeals court said Tuesday.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with six homeless people from Boise, Idaho, who sued the city in 2009 over a local ordinance that banned sleeping in public spaces. The ruling could affect several other cities across the U.S. West that have similar laws.

It comes as many places across the West Coast are struggling with homelessness brought on by rising housing costs and income inequality.

When the Boise lawsuit was filed, attorneys for the homeless residents said as many as 4,500 people didn’t have a place to sleep in Idaho’s capital city and homeless shelters only had about 700 available beds or mats. The case bounced back and forth in the courts for years, and Boise modified its rules in 2014 to say homeless people couldn’t be prosecuted for sleeping outside when shelters were full.

But that didn’t solve the problem, the attorneys said, because Boise’s shelters limit the number of days that homeless residents can stay. Two of the city’s three shelters also require some form of religious participation for some programs, making those shelters unsuitable for people with different beliefs, the homeless residents said.

The three-judge panel for the 9th Circuit found that the shelter rules meant homeless people would still be at risk of prosecution even on days when beds were open. The judges also said the religious programming woven into some shelter programs was a problem.

“A city cannot, via the threat of prosecution, coerce an individual to attend religion-based treatment programs consistently with the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment,” Judge Marsha Berzon wrote.

The biggest issue was that the city’s rule violated the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment against cruel and unusual punishment, the court found. The amendment limits what the government can criminalize, it said.

“As a result, just as the state may not criminalize the state of being ‘homeless in public places,’ the state may not ‘criminalize conduct that is an unavoidable consequence of being homeless — namely sitting, lying, or sleeping on the streets,'” Berzon wrote.

The ruling shows it’s time for Boise officials to start proposing “real solutions,” said Maria Foscarinis, executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, whose attorneys were among those representing the homeless residents.

In 2007, the 9th Circuit ruled in favor of homeless residents of Los Angeles, finding that as long as there are more homeless residents than there are shelter beds, a law outlawing sleeping outside was unconstitutional. Both sides later reached an agreement and the entire case was eventually thrown out.

In 2009, a federal judge said a Portland, Oregon, policy designed to prevent people from sitting or lying on public sidewalks was unconstitutional. Portland officials now must also give campers at least 24 hours’ notice before cleaning up or moving unsanctioned camps.

A state judge rejected a similar anti-camping law in Everett, Washington.

Sara Rankin, a professor at the Seattle University School of Law and director of its Homeless Rights Advocacy Project, said the ruling will serve as a wake-up call to local governments, forcing them to invest in adequate supportive housing for the chronically homeless.

“I think it’s finally common sense,” Rankin said of the ruling. “There are certain life-sustaining activities that people can’t survive without doing. It’s a really important recognition that people have to be able to legally exist and survive somewhere.”

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2 years ago

Locking these people up is cruel and unusal? How is giving them 3 hots and a cot, medical & psychiatric intervention, job resources, and social training cruel and unusal. I guess it would be unusual (not in a bad way) but not nearly as cruel as making them live on the streets. And no doubt there’d be many other ‘free’ services. (I say ‘free’ as in they don’t have to pay but we do.) If the homeless want to do’t want to use those services fine. But there’s almost no way to live on the streets without violating some rule,… Read more »

2 years ago

What ever happened to littering and loitering laws? Not to mention creating a heath crisis for the masses.
Again, a few are dictating to the majority.
Wages are rising and jobs are plenty. For many they actually do choose to live off the grid.
If a job can be found for them, get them temp housing and back into the work force.

2 years ago

I am frankly appalled and disgusted at this entire course of events. After reading Deuteronomy, it frightens me. The Holy One warned Israel to be merciful to the poor and homeless. There really is nowhere for them to go, save try to wander off into the wilderness, which the government guards more zealously than the urban regions. At this rate, the opinion I have seen, and in the Awakened Communities no less, is so abhorrent that you might as well admit what you want, concentration camps for the poor. Put them all into nice slave labor facilities and “improve” everyone’s… Read more »

Dr. Eowyn
2 years ago
Reply to  Tear

Cities have homeless shelters, but many “homeless” simply refuse to sleep in shelters because they find the rules restricting and confining.

But according to sanctimonious you, who actually claim to know “the will of the Holy One” on this matter, we are to simply let the homeless sleep — and urinate and defecate — on our streets, some of whom physically assault passersby, including children and the elderly. (Go to Berkeleyside for examples.)

2 years ago
Reply to  Dr. Eowyn

Tear, my church helps the hungry in Los Angeles, around 3000/month, and I have seen homelessness close up, ministering at Skid Row, but many of these people are addicts, and some are mentally ill, and many in California are criminals who have gotten early release because supposedly their crimes are not violent enough. Just letting them sleep wherever they want, trash the environment, receive multiple benefits is not blessing them or us.

2 years ago

There are still vagrancy laws. I know that those are not “unconstitutional”. Cities have a right to protect their citizens. If you are loitering or vagrant they can enforce those laws.

One “solution” (realizing it really isn’t a solution), is to set up tent cities out of town and send them there. There’s a lot wrong with that too, but at least it gets them out of town and out from being under foot.