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7/20/2024 7:15:54 AM
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The Supreme Court states cities can penalize people for oversleeping public places


The Supreme Court states cities can penalize people for oversleeping public places


An Anchorage Parks and Recreation staff member gets trash around a homeless encampment near Cuddy Family Midtown Park on May 9, 2023. (Jeremy Hsieh/Alaska Public Media).

In its greatest choice on homelessness in years, the U.S. Supreme Court today ruled that cities can prohibit individuals from sleeping and camping in public locations. The justices, in a 6-3 choice along ideological lines, overturned lower court judgments that considered it uncommon and terrible under the Eighth Amendment to punish individuals for sleeping outside if they had no place else to go.

Writing for the majority, Justice Gorsuch said, "Homelessness is complex. Its causes are lots of." However he stated federal judges do not have any "unique competence" to decide how cities must handle this.

" The Constitution's Eighth Amendment serves lots of crucial functions, but it does not license federal judges to wrest those rights and responsibilities from the American individuals and in their place determine this Nation's homelessness policy," he wrote.

In a dissent, Justice Sotomayor stated the decision focused just on the requirements of cities but not the most vulnerable. She stated sleep is a biological requirement, however this choice leaves a homeless individual with "a difficult option-- either stay awake or be arrested.".

The court's decision is a win not just for the small Oregon city of Grants Pass, which brought the case, but also for dozens of Western regions that had urged the high court to give them more enforcement powers as they face record high rates of homelessness. They stated the lower court rulings had actually tied their hands in trying to keep public spaces safe and open for everyone.

Advocates for the unhoused say the decision will not resolve the bigger issue, and might make life much harder for the quarter of a million people living on streets, in parks and in their cars. "Where do people experiencing homelessness go if every neighborhood decides to penalize them for their homelessness?" says Diane Yentel, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

Today's ruling just changes existing law in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes California and eight other Western states where the bulk of America's unhoused population lives. It will also identify whether similar policies in other places are permissible; and it will practically definitely affect homelessness policy in cities around the country.

Cities grumbled they were hamstrung in handling a public safety crisis


Grants Pass and other cities argued that lower court judgments sustained the spread of homeless encampments, threatening public health and safety. When and where people might sleep and even to shut down encampments-- but they said cities first had to use individuals appropriate shelter, those choices did permit cities to restrict.

That's an obstacle in lots of locations that don't have nearly adequate shelter beds. In briefs filed by regional authorities, cities and town also expressed aggravation that many unhoused people reject shelter when it is readily available; they may not wish to go if a center prohibits family pets, for example, or forbids drugs and alcohol.

Critics likewise said lower court rulings were uncertain, making them unfeasible in practice. Areas have faced lots of lawsuits over the information of what's allowed. And they argued that homelessness is a complex problem that requires balancing contending interests, something regional authorities are much better equipped to do than the courts.

" We are attempting to show there's regard for the public areas that we all require to have," Seattle City Attorney Ann Davison informed NPR earlier this year. She wrote a legal short on behalf of more than a dozen other cities.

Lawyers for homeless individuals in Grants Pass argued that the city's policies were so sweeping, they successfully made it prohibited for someone without a home to exist. To prevent oversleeping public areas, the city prohibited using stoves and sleeping bags, pillows or other bedding. But Grants Pass has no public shelter, just a Christian mission that enforces various constraints and requires individuals to participate in spiritual service.

" It's sort of the bare minimum in what a simply society ought to anticipate, is that you're not going to penalize someone for something they have no capability to control," stated Ed Johnson of the Oregon Law Center, which represents those who took legal action against the city.

He likewise stated saddling individuals with fines and a criminal record makes it even harder for them to eventually enter housing.

Johnson and other supporters state today's decision will not alter the core problem behind increasing homelessness: a severe housing lack, and rents that have become unaffordable for a record half of all renters. The only genuine service, they state, is to create lots more real estate people can pay for-- and that will take years.


Jennifer Ludden, NPR.

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Elwood Hill
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Elwood Hill

Elwood Hill is an award-winning journalist with more than 18 years' of experience in the industry. Throughout his career, John has worked on a variety of different stories and assignments including national politics, local sports, and international business news. Elwood graduated from Northwestern University with a degree in journalism and immediately began working for Breaking Now News as lead journalist.

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