US Supreme Court to Review Laws Impacting Homeless Encampments

LI Network

Published on: January 15, 2024 at 10:45 IST

The U.S. Supreme Court has taken on the case of an Oregon city’s push to enforce local laws against camping on public property, setting the stage for a legal battle over the homelessness crisis that has posed challenges for municipalities in the Western United States.

Grants Pass, a city in southern Oregon with around 40,000 residents, appealed a lower Court’s decision that declared its ordinances, making it unlawful to camp in public spaces, violate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against “cruel and unusual” punishment.

Three homeless individuals filed a class-action complaint in 2018, contending that Grants Pass’s anti-camping laws infringed upon the Eighth Amendment. Violations of these laws could result in civil fines, bans from city property, and criminal prosecution for trespassing. With an estimated 50 to 600 homeless people within the city and insufficient shelter beds, Grants Pass finds itself at the center of a crucial legal battle.

Theane Evangelis, the attorney representing Grants Pass, expressed anticipation about presenting the case. She argued that the rulings from the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and a similar case in Idaho have exacerbated the issue of encampments in cities across the West. Evangelis believes these decisions are legally incorrect and have limited local governments in addressing the pressing homelessness crisis.

The appeal by Grants Pass has garnered support from various western cities and states affected by the 9th Circuit decision. The central question in this case is whether cities have the authority to penalize homeless residents merely for existing without access to shelter, according to Ed Johnson, the litigation director at the Oregon Law Center, who is assisting the plaintiffs.

California Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, criticized the 9th Circuit’s decision in a legal brief, stating that it hampers lawmakers’ ability to find solutions to homelessness, leaving only basic and fragmented options during a growing national crisis.

The Supreme Court’s decision to take on the case comes on the heels of the 9th Circuit rejecting San Francisco’s appeal to lift judicial restrictions on the city’s ability to clear homeless encampments.

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