Supreme Court Ruling Allows Homeless To Sleep On Public Streets

Supreme Court Ruling Allows Homeless To Sleep On Public Streets

Today, the United States Supreme Court refused to review a 9th Circuit ruling that held a city is not permitted to criminally prosecute homeless persons for sleeping outside on public property, including sidewalks, parks, benches, etc.  The 9th Circuit’s ruling was largely based on the determination that the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment bars a city from prosecuting such persons when there is not sufficient overnight space available at a local shelter.  By refusing to review the 9th Circuit’s ruling, the Supreme Court has allowed the ruling to remain “good law” within the jurisdiction of the 9th Circuit, including California.

The opinion, entitled Martin v. City of Boise, originated from a lawsuit filed in 2009 by Robert Martin against the City of Boise, when Martin and several other homeless individuals sued the City of Boise in connection with enforcement of its “anti-camping ordinance.”  Boise, like Los Angeles, has experienced a significant issue with increasing homelessness, resulting in increased homeless “camps” springing up on sidewalks.  The challenged laws made it illegal to use any public place as a “camping place”, and it defined “camping place” to include the use of a public place as a temporary or permanent place of dwelling.  As such, the ordinance was often utilized to target the homeless population and to cite them for “camping” on public streets and other public places.  Ultimately, the Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit determined that the enforcement of such an ordinance against homeless persons constitutes a violation of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment when there is no available local shelter space.

The Supreme Court’s decision to refuse to review the 9th Circuit’s opinion is significant insofar as it potentially implies agreement with the 9th Circuit’s ruling and the lack of a need to further expand upon or disagree with the opinion.  The ruling has obvious serious implications in Los Angeles as well, where the homeless population has increased staggeringly in recent years.  Unless and until housing supply, including affordable housing supply, increases to meet the ever-growing demand in Los Angeles, the city can likely expect homeless encampments to continue to spring up throughout the city.

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