Cities Turn To Supreme Court To Weigh In On Clearing Homeless Camps

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Brandon Poulter Contributor
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More than 50 governments and organizations asked the Supreme Court in September to overturn court decisions that prevent officials from clearing homeless encampments, according to The New York Times.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in a 2018 case from Boise, Idaho, that it was unconstitutional for cities to clear homeless encampments and criminally charge the homeless unless housing could be offered, according to court documents. Some cities, including Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Las Vegas, are calling on the Supreme Court to intervene, according to the NYT. (RELATED: ‘Sick And Tired’: Dem Mayor Demands Reversal Of Injunction On Homeless Ordinances)

“Despite massive infusions of public resources, businesses and residents are suffering the increasingly negative effects of long-term urban camping,” attorneys for Las Vegas, Seattle and more than a dozen other cities wrote in a brief, according to the NYT.

An aerial view shows squares painted on the ground to encourage homeless people to keep to social distancing at a city-sanctioned homeless encampment across from City Hall in San Francisco, California, on May 22, 2020, amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Josh Edelson / AFP)

Homeless rights activists acknowledge that the camps are unsafe to both occupants and the surrounding community, but argued that the legal effort is an attempt to use government force instead of providing housing, according to the NYT.

“They’re seeking to blame and penalize and marginalize the victims rather than take the steps they haven’t found the political will to take,” Eric Tars, senior policy director at the National Homelessness Law Center, told the NYT.

More than 40% of the homeless population resides in the nine western states that are within the Ninth Circuit’s jurisdiction, according to the NYT. Very few cities in the area affected by the Ninth Circuit decision reportedly have enough beds for the homeless, which make officials hesitate to enforce laws.

Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom in August criticized a December 2022 ruling by United States District Court Chief Magistrate Judge Donna Ryu that barred San Francisco from enforcing its homeless ordinances. Newsom asked the Supreme Court to step in.

“While I agree with the basic principle that a city shouldn’t criminalize homeless individuals for sleeping outside when they have nowhere else to go within that city’s boundaries, courts continue to reach well beyond that narrow limit to block any number of reasonable efforts to protect homeless individuals and the broader public from the harms of uncontrolled encampments,” Newsom said in a statement.

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