Posted by 16 December 2019
In the face of a rising number of homeless people camping out on city sidewalks, Boise city leaders wanted to take action. They passed a law banning the activity. But a federal appeals court overruled the city, saying that such a ban was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court has refused to take up this case, allowing the lower court ruling to stand. That means that the homeless in Boise and other western cities will not be prosecuted for sleeping outside.
At question is a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling from earlier this year that laws banning outdoor sleeping were a violation of the Constitution’s prohibition on “cruel and unusual punishment.” The judges said that since sleep was necessary to live, the city could not prohibit people from sleeping in public if there was not sufficient housing for them. City officials say that this eliminates their ability to take steps to curb homeless camps that may cause public health issues and be a nuisance.
Boise appealed this decision to the Supreme Court, seeking to overturn it and allow the city law to take effect. The high court refused to hear the city’s appeal this week. That allows the Ninth Circuit’s decision to stand. This court has jurisdiction over western states, so not all of the U.S. is affected by the ruling.
Other cities are also grappling with this issue. Some, such as Austin, recently rescinded laws that criminalize public sleeping. Officials there said that individuals cited under the law would not show up to court, which led to criminal charges that made it even more difficult for that person to find housing and a job.
Loosening restrictions on homeless sleeping is often unpopular with the public. Business owners complain about homeless people deterring customers in downtown locations and city residents worry about the spread of diseases. This spring, voters in Denver overwhelmingly rejected a measure that would allow people to camp or sleep in their cars in public. Some politicians are seizing on this issue, promising to take steps that would remove the homeless from the streets by incarcerating them for minor crimes.
Do you think that cities should be able to ban sleeping on city streets?