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Court Rules That Punishing Homeless People for Sleeping In Public Is Unconstitutional

photo of a homeless man slumped over on the street
A court ruled punishing homelessness for sleeping in public when no shelter is available is unconstitutional. Image via Pixabay.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in Idaho ruled that it is unconstitutional and cruel to punish homeless people for sleeping in the streets when no shelter is available.

Three judges of the court made the decision in response to a lawsuit brought by six homeless people earlier convicted for sleeping in public places in Boise, Idaho. The plaintiffs argued that their constitutional rights had been violated, having been convicted under two ordinances prohibiting sleeping in the open in the state.

The Ordinances Criminalize Poverty and Make Affordable Housing a Mere Dream to Poor People

“A municipality cannot criminalize such behavior consistently with the Eighth Amendment when no sleeping space is practically available in any shelter,” the judges wrote. “As long as there is no option of sleeping indoors, the government cannot criminalize indigent, homeless people for sleeping outdoors, on public property, on the false premise they had a choice in the matter.”

Advocates for homeless people sleeping in open streets or public buildings lauded the court for the judgment. They argue that the City of Boise cannot make such laws and expect them to last since the laws waste public funds, ignores root causes of homelessness, and punish poor people for remaining poor.

The government has intensified efforts to prosecute public sleepers as urban neighborhoods increasingly become gentrified. This pointed was noted by Maria Foscarinis, the executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. She says gentrification will make affordable housing a mere dream for the poor, and it creates a pressure to forcibly remove poor people from prominent city areas. Promoting gentrification leads to criminalization of public sleeping, she added.

survey of 187 cities by Foscarinis’s group found that from 2006 to 2016, the number of bans on camping in public increased by 69 percent.

The Ninth Circuit is based in San Francisco, meaning the Boise ruling will apply to Idaho, California, Arizona and Washington among other areas covered by the court. To this extent, several cities in the affected areas have begun to review laws relating to homelessness for necessary modifications. Foscarinis disclosed that her group has identified over 20 other cities that may have to review their ordinances to comply with the Ninth Circuit’s ruling.

Many Homeless People Could Not Use Public Shelters Because Of Religious Restrictions

The six homeless people who brought the lawsuit for being convicted of violating city ordinances were cited between 2007 and 2009 when they lived in or around Boise. The city has three shelters for homeless people, but these are always filled to capacity and have rules that must be obeyed before admittance.

According to Judge Marsha S. Berzon, one of the panelists on the Ninth Circuit, many homeless people choose to sleep in the streets rather than in the shelters due to their difficult rules.

Some of these shelter rules regulated when people can check in and how long they have to stay. Two of the shelters do not allow people who have checked out to return there until 30 days have passed – unless they complete “an intensive, Christ-based residential recovery program,” according to Judge Berzon’s opinion.

The case has been closely watched around the country, and in 2015 then President Barack Obama filed a statement of interest saying that “punishing conduct that is a universal and unavoidable consequence of being human violates the Eighth Amendment.”

 

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27 Comments

  1. Barbara Thomas Knaus September 10, 2018

    It shouldn’t take the courts to tell you this!!

    Reply
  2. Shirley Hawkins September 10, 2018

    Place them if you don’t like it. Blame yourself republicans, and disgraceful like ugly trump you know that right right

    Reply
    1. Carol Carpinteyro September 10, 2018

      Stop blaming president trump for this mess obama is to blame like past president. Gov brown just filling gis pockets rest pelosi.

    2. Lynda L B Duke September 10, 2018

      This is the corporations and Reagan’s doing. Trump just simply doesn’t care.

  3. Janet Bento Li September 10, 2018

    Father God, help the homeless people in our country. Amen.

    Reply
  4. Chari Hayes September 10, 2018

    Thank goodness!

    Reply
  5. Bob Berry September 10, 2018

    What took so long?

    Reply
  6. Deborah Anderson September 10, 2018

    Start housing the homeless people

    Reply
  7. Juanita Towery September 10, 2018

    About time!

    Reply
  8. Craig Anderson September 10, 2018

    Why not set up parks close to the millionaires homes …….

    Reply
  9. Joanne Olenhouse Racadio September 10, 2018

    Fix the economic disparity and stop harassing the victims.

    Reply
  10. Elaine Carey September 10, 2018

    In a Country as rich as America…there should be NO HOMELESS. I think we could do better for all American’s …don’t you??? Make PEACE NOT WAR and America could do sooo much more for it’s PEOPLE!!! 🇺🇸♥️🇺🇸♥️🇺🇸♥️🇺🇸♥️🇺🇸

    Reply
  11. Lynda L B Duke September 10, 2018

    Good! It’s about time to treat them as HUMANS down in their luck.

    Reply
  12. Tina Campos September 10, 2018

    They have to go somewhere,instead of Trump giving tax cuts to the rich,he should take care of the homeless,he doesn’t give a rats ass about the poor the sick or old,the poor is practically living pay check to pay check,while his administration and his family are lining there pockets with money ,taking US to the cleaner’s,get smart people vote this Monster’s out VOTE BLUE

    Reply
  13. Joyce Freeman September 15, 2018

    It’s only common sense

    Reply
  14. Betty Major September 15, 2018

    See this Mr. Deters

    Reply
  15. Martin D Regis September 15, 2018

    Nothing in the Constitution about this, but there are Laws, they broke that does cover it.

    Reply
  16. Shirley Hawkins September 15, 2018

    Help them out

    Reply
  17. Bob Berry September 15, 2018

    What took them so long?

    Reply
  18. Cheryl Yeager September 15, 2018

    That is also unchristian

    Reply
  19. Rina Davis-van Tuil September 15, 2018

    Then five them permanent shelter Government! But they don’t care!

    Reply
  20. Larry Robinson September 15, 2018

    Government wastes more money on trips, rental cars and meetings …how about using funds for homelessness, no new taxes needed

    Reply
  21. James N. Benko September 15, 2018

    I can understand laws to improve and maintain the quality of life in a community, but punishing the homeless is cruel and unjust. The lack of homeless shelters and affordable housing is a gross display of negligence and injustice. If you don’t want homeless people sleeping out in the streets or parks, then provide them with a place to live.

    Reply
  22. Paula Mattern September 15, 2018

    👍👍👍

    Reply
  23. Chari Hayes September 15, 2018

    A step in the right direction.
    This country and others are big on poor shaming and making sure people stay poor.

    Reply
  24. Ronald Christensen September 16, 2018

    Any idiot could figure that out !

    Reply
  25. Josh Schwien September 16, 2018

    In this day and age for most it’s a choice. I saw the town I grew up in destroyed by illegals and homeless. 90% of them are drug addicts or alcoholics and moved to the area because of the mild weather and free shit from the government. It is endlessly aggravating to hear a homeless person walk into my work where I spent 50+ hours a week to give them a third of my money and they are talking about “I get my check on the first.” What fucking check? Why should 2/3 of the country have to work their asses off to support the lazy fucking drunks and drug addicts. Not to mention the welfare Kings and Queens who are just lazy fucks who keep popping out kids to get a bigger paycheck from the government

    Reply

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