Thu. Jul 18th, 2024

Supreme Court allows Oregon city policy that punishes homeless people for sleeping on public property

By 37ci3 Jun29,2024

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court On Friday, a small Oregon city rejected a constitutional challenge to ordinances punishing homeless people for sleeping on public property when they have nowhere to go.

In a 6-3 vote along ideological lines with conservatives in the majority, the justices ruled in favor of the city of Grants Pass, saying the measures did not violate the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel or unusual punishment.

A homeless man walks by the tent
Fruitdale Park on March 23, 2024, in Grants Pass, Ore.Jenny Kane / AP

“Homelessness is complex,” Judge Neil Gorsuch wrote in the ruling. “It has many causes. Public policy responses may be required to overcome it. At bottom, the question this case presents is whether the Eighth Amendment gives federal judges the primary responsibility to evaluate those causes and to craft those responses. It does not.”

Gorsuch It added that homeless people may have other defenses against punitive municipal orders that can be raised in other cases. Grants Pass could also be limited by a new state law in Oregon that places limits on the power of cities to fine people for sleeping on public property.

The ruling was met with sharp reaction from liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor second day in a row He expressed his strong feelings by reading the summary of opposing views in the courtroom.

“Sleep is not a crime, it’s a biological necessity,” he wrote.

The Grants Pass policy was “unconscionable and unconstitutional,” and he said he hoped the court would “play its role in protecting constitutional liberties for the most vulnerable among us” in the future.

The decision overturns a 2022 decision by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in favor of a group of homeless people.

That means an ordinance would be put in place that limits the city’s ability to enforce ordinances against people sleeping outside, protected only by blankets and with no other shelter options. The city can now impose other aspects of what it describes as an anti-camping policy, including restrictions on more permanent encampments.

The ordinances prohibit sleeping or camping on public property, but the focus is on people who have no alternative due to a lack of homeless shelters in the city, about 250 miles south of Portland.

“We are disappointed that the majority of the court found that our Constitution allows a city to punish its homeless residents for sleeping outside to survive the cold,” said Ed Johnson, an attorney with the Oregon Law Center, which represents the plaintiffs.

Demonstrators hold signs and use reflective blankets.
Demonstrators hold signs and use reflective blankets during a protest outside the US Supreme Court in April.Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

Penalties at issue in the case can include fines of up to several hundred dollars and bans from removing people from public property.

Advocates for the homeless say the ordinances punish people for existing when they have nowhere else to go, and the measures do nothing to address the housing shortage.

Cities already have the authority to regulate homeless encampments, they added, not the issue before the Supreme Court.

Moreover, their attorneys argued, the ordinances would only serve to shift the burden of serving the homeless population onto neighboring jurisdictions.

Advocates provide food, hot meals, supplies and necessities for the homeless community.
Homeless advocates deliver goods to hundreds of homeless people in Grants Pass, Oregon, in March.Melina Mara / The Washington Post via Getty Images file

Grants Pass officials released a statement on the city’s website saying they are “grateful that the court decision will help guide our next steps regarding homeless members of our community.”

The city is “committed to helping residents who are struggling to find stable housing,” the statement said.

The appeals court ruling applied to all nine states under its jurisdiction, including California. Several of these states have large homeless populations.

Local officials from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Phoenix and other cities are among those asking the Supreme Court to overturn the appeals court.

The Biden administration a short saying that laws prohibiting either party from sleeping on public property are illegal “if they are applied in a way that prevents a person without shelter from living in the jurisdiction.”

Protester in hand
A protester against public drug use in parks demonstrates outside Grants Pass City Hall in March.Jenny Kane / AP

The appeals court ruled 2-1 that Grants Pass “cannot enforce its anti-camping ordinance against homeless people to sleep outside with rudimentary protection from the elements or to sleep in their cars overnight when there is no other place to go” in the city.

The court added that the ruling applies only in cases where there is “no place of refuge”.

The ruling largely upheld a federal judge’s order that limited the city’s ability to enforce ordinances against certain homeless people who sleep overnight in parks.

Camp site for homeless people in the park.
Camping in a park in Grants Pass, Oregon in March.Jenny Kane / AP

The case arose after a group of homeless people protested the implementation of the ordinances. They say there is there is no shelterso they have little choice but to sleep outside.

City officials argued in court that the ordinances are legal and intended to prevent the proliferation of homeless encampments.

Officials say their policy is intended to encourage homeless people to seek housing, even though the city itself has no shelters. It directs people to an organization run by a religious organization that has limited space and imposes conditions that some homeless people object to.

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