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Supreme Court Set to Back City Laws Banning Sleeping Outside in Homeless Rights Case

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Supreme Court Set to Back City Laws Banning Sleeping Outside in Homeless Rights Case
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Supreme Court Set to Back City Laws Banning Sleeping Outside in Homeless Rights Case

Source: Pinterest

The question, “Are homeless people breaking the law by sleeping in public places?” has been debated among lawmakers for more than fifty years. In April, the Supreme Court is set to give a ruling on this, deciding once and for all if this is a punishable offense or not.

The Recurring Debate

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For many years, there has been a recurring debate on whether homeless people are breaking the law by sleeping in public places. A lot of people believe they are not breaking any laws as long as they do not damage public property. However, others believe that public places should not be used as shelters or sleeping areas, no matter the situation.

Homelessness: An Epidemic in the United States

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The homelessness crisis in the country has continued to increase with time. Statistics from the Department of Housing and Urban Development show that there are over 250,000 homeless people living on the streets. Therefore, this problem affects a significant proportion of the population, and the Supreme Court hopes to address it. This hearing was held on April 22nd but ended in a deadlock as the justices were divided.

A Huge Case

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Jesse Rabinowitz, the communications and campaign director at the National Homelessness Law Center, has cited this case as one of the most important ones concerning homeless people in the 21st century. She said to CBS News, “This is the most important Supreme Court case about homelessness in at least 40 years, and the results will be tremendous.”

The Weight of the Supreme Court’s Decision

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She went into further detail, explaining that whatever decision the court makes will affect the lives of every homeless person and determine a lot in their future. Rabinowitz said, “This will either make it easier for cities to punish people for sleeping outside while failing to provide them shelter or housing, just like they did in Grants Pass, or it will push cities to fund actual solutions to homelessness.”

Oregon’s Homelessness Case

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This huge case was facilitated by a case in Grants Pass, Oregon. The city officials introduced three new rules against people sleeping on the streets. The rules ban people from sleeping on public sidewalks and streets and also prohibit camping on any public land. Therefore, those who violate any of these rules may be banned from public parks for up to 30 days with a $295 fine.

Enforcing New Laws

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According to the Grants Pass Department of Public Safety, they will be enforcing these new laws with moderation. The court papers also show that they will follow this route. The department also says that it believes “homelessness is not a crime.” Therefore, it has no intention to “use homelessness solely as a basis for detention or law enforcement action.”

Oregon Citizens Sue the City’s Government

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Back in 2018, three homeless people in Grants Pass sued the city on behalf of “all involuntarily homeless individuals living in Grants Pass.” This was in a bid to stop the city from implementing any laws that could stop them from using the public places as they please. They knew that this would greatly affect the lives of the city’s homeless population if the court passed the legislation.

Criminalizing Homelessness

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Per the lawsuit, the three plaintiffs argued that the city of Grants Pass was trying to “criminalize their existence.” They also claimed that the city was trying to get them off the streets with no real plans in place, as there were no homeless shelters for them. The two privately funded housing projects already in place can not help all the 600 homeless people around the city.

Court Rules Against the City

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A federal district judge ruled against the city in July 2022, citing a partial violation of the Eighth Amendment. “Because Grants Pass lacks adequate shelter for its homeless population, its practice of punishing people who have no access to shelter for the act of sleeping or resting outside while having a blanket or other bedding to stay warm and dry constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment,” the judge said.

City Appeals Loss

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Grants Pass’ officials didn’t not give up after this setback. Instead, they appealed the federal district court’s decision to the US Court of Appeals. However, they were not successful and the three-hedge panel upheld the initial decision. They also cited the Eighth Amendment while giving their verdict, saying that they cannot legally stop someone from sleeping outside or in their car at night when they don’t have another option.

Lawyer Claims Politicians Are Blaming Judiciary for Homelessness Crisis

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The lawyer who is representing the homeless citizens in the Oregon city, Ed Johnson, also said, “This case is not about a city’s ability to regulate or prohibit encampments. That has always been permissible, is explicitly allowed under the Ninth Circuit’s ruling, and is not at issue here.” He also criticized some politicians and lawmakers for “blaming the judiciary for the homelessness crisis to distract the public and deflect blame for years of failed policies.”

The Outcome Has A Big Impact on the Homeless

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After the Supreme Court’s deliberation on April 22nd, there was no straight decision as there were divided opinions. However, if the court meets again and rules in favor of Grants Pass, it will affect the homeless people greatly. It could affect the lives of over 650,000 people, turning homelessness into a serious crime.