Tuesday, May 7, 2024

Supreme Court Could Pave the Way for Homeless Camp Bans; Liberal Cities, Conservative Towns Seek Supreme Court’s Help on Homelessness; Supreme Court to Weigh Whether Bans Targeting Homeless Encampments Run Afoul of the Constitution

AP Photo/Jenny Kane
Supreme Court could pave the way for homeless camp bans:
As the nation’s homelessness crisis deepens, the Supreme Court on Monday will weigh a case that has captured the attention of state officials with some of the largest homeless populations.
Originating from the modest city of Grant Pass, Oregon, the case involves fines imposed for violations of its anti-camping ordinance. A pair of homeless people sued the city and convinced lower courts the ordinance was a form of “cruel and unusual” punishment, a decision that state leaders from California to Arizona say has greatly hindered efforts to keep people off of the streets.
The high court’s ultimate decision could give cities the power to regulate homelessness, or greatly inhibit those efforts. 
How did this case wind up before the justices?
In September 2022, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit found the city’s ordinance constituted an Eighth Amendment violation against cruel and unusual punishment, delivering a ruling that hamstrung efforts to combat encampments in Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington. The case also reinforced a separate 2018 precedent set in Martin v. City of Boise at the 9th Circuit, which found the amendment bars the imposition of criminal penalties for sitting or sleeping outside on homeless people who do not have access to shelter.
“These decisions tie the hands of city officials entirely when dealing with the homeless, and at its best, it causes a lot of confusion,” Goldwater Institute Vice President for Legal Affairs Timothy Sandefur told the Washington Examiner last month.
The Grant Pass ordinances impose a $295 fine for violations, and the fine increases to $537.60 if it is not paid. Following two citations, authorities in Grants Pass can issue an order that bans the individual from city property, and a violation of that order opens the potential for a conviction on criminal trespass charges, which carry penalties of up to 30 days in jail and a $1250 fine.
About 600 homeless residents in Grant Pass stay in tents and makeshift tarp shelters in the city park, saying they have nowhere else to go. The Boise decision held a person could not be punished for being homeless if the “number of homeless persons … exceeds the number of available bed shelters,” setting up essentially a “numerical formula” for determining whether the application was cruel and unusual, according to Sandefur. --->READ MORE HERE
Jenny Kane/Associated Press
Liberal Cities, Conservative Towns Seek Supreme Court’s Help on Homelessness
A Supreme Court case on the limits of vagrancy laws is making allies of rural towns and big cities at their wits’ end over homelessness.
The court on Monday will hear arguments on how far municipalities can go in prohibiting camping on public property, laws that police employ to clear homeless people from parks and streets. A federal appeals court in San Francisco has found such measures unconstitutional when enforced against those with nowhere to go, prompting an appeal backed by many of the cities facing housing crises, including Los Angeles; Portland, Ore.; and San Francisco.
Monday’s case originated far from the urban centers typically associated with homelessness. It comes instead from Grants Pass, Ore., where in March 2013, officials convened a community roundtable over “vagrancy problems” afflicting the small city along the Rogue River. “The point,” said one city councilor, “is to make it uncomfortable enough for them in our city so they will want to move on down the road.”
That comment caught the attention of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which years later cited it when ruling that Grants Pass violated the rights of “involuntarily homeless” people by outlawing camping on public property or in vehicles when no shelter beds were available. A court injunction currently forbids the city from expelling homeless people from all but one of its 20 parks, says Mayor Sara Bristol.
Grants Pass was the latest in a string of Ninth Circuit decisions finding that ordinances on loitering and sleeping in public places are cruel and unusual when applied against people without housing. Advocacy groups that have sued to challenge the measures say officials shouldn’t be able to brush off a social crisis by effectively making homelessness a crime.
“I’ve been representing people who have been forced to live outside since 1999, and I’ve never seen anything like what they were doing in Grants Pass,” says Ed Johnson, litigation director at the Oregon Law Center, a legal-aid group that filed the class action on behalf of the city’s homeless people. Police officers “were going out looking for [homeless] people and telling them there was no place in the city they could be,” he said.
But cities across the Ninth Circuit, which sprawls from Montana and Arizona to Alaska and Hawaii, say that the line of court decisions culminating in Johnson v. Grants Pass has hamstrung their efforts to address homelessness and transformed parks, sidewalks and other public spaces into dangerous and unsanitary campgrounds where other residents feel unwelcome.
“No one is criminalizing homelessness,” says Theane Evangelis, who will present the city’s argument before the court Monday. “This is about camping in public.” --->READ MORE HERE (or HERE)
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+++++Supreme Court to weigh whether bans targeting homeless encampments run afoul of the Constitution+++++

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