Grants Pass Joins Battle to Break Legal Chain Protecting Homeless Encampments

GRANTS PASS, Ore. — Grants Pass has filed a brief supporting a lawmaker petition about an earlier court ruling that “makes it impossible” for municipalities to control crime around homeless encampments. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals made a ruling in 2018 stating that punishing the “involuntarily homeless” from sleeping outdoors is unconstitutional if there are insufficient shelter beds to cater to their needs.

 

Municipalities Hands Tied by Current Court Ruling

The Grants Pass brief is one of dozens recently filed to have the ruling overturned. Municipalities state that they are legally prevented from controlling an increasing number of homeless encampments in parks, on sidewalks, and in other public places.

Read: Grants Pass Anti-Homeless Law: Supreme Court To Rule On Whether It’s Cruel And Unusual Punishment

The circuit court’s 2018 Martin vs. Boise decision says preventing this category of homeless people from sleeping outside violates the “cruel and unusual punishment” clause contained in the constitution’s Eighth Amendment. The arguments stated in the petition will to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court on 22 April.

 

Victory Will Drastically Change the Homeless Landscape

Victory could drastically affect the ever-increasing number of homeless encampments throughout the country if the petitioners are successful in their efforts to have the Martin vs. Boise ruling overturned.

Grants Pass is a small Josephine County city with less than 40,000 residents. In papers filed by Grants Pass, the municipality states that because of the existing ruling, it finds itself “hamstrung” in response to homeless encampments in public areas.

Read: Grants Pass Homeless Anticipating Resolution By Supreme Court, But Still Facing Barriers

Apart from Grants Pass, the Department of Justice, members of Congress, several western states, and local officials are all supporting the drive to change the homelessness law.

 

Homelessness Continues to Grow

The number of homeless people in the country increased by 12% last year. Housing was put out of reach by soaring rental increases and cutbacks in pandemic assistance, according to a federal report from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. In January 2023, there were 653,000 homeless people in the U.S. More than 50% of the homeless population live in California, Washington, New York and Florida, with California as the home base for 28% of that number.

Oregon has the highest rate of homelessness in the country, while states in the West have the highest percentage of homeless people living on the street and in cars. For every 10,000 residents, there are nine families with children classified as homeless.

 

Department of Justice Appeal

In its brief, the Department of Justice (DOJ) says the 9th Circuit was correct in its finding that it is unconstitutional to punish people sleeping outdoors when there are insufficient shelters. However, the court “erred” when applying its decision because of difficulties establishing the “involuntarily homeless” stipulation.

DOJ Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Kristen Clarke and Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar state that the court ruling failed to show what is required to establish an involuntarily homeless status.

They have requested that the justices dismiss the 9th Circuit decision and ask the lower courts to review the earlier ruling.

The Grants Pass petition is backed by a coalition of 24 Republican attorneys who state that the 9th Circuit “cannot solve homelessness”. The coalition says it is States and local municipalities that have the knowledge required to address homelessness in their areas, and it is States and local municipalities that carry the cost of homelessness.

Supporters of the petition include Rep. Cliff Bentz who represents Grants Pass, and five congressmen for California who also filed a brief. They say that the 9th Circuit ruling “makes it impossible” for municipalities to address crime near encampments.

 

Takeaway

Rights groups like the American Civil Liberties Union that support the existing 9th Circuit ruling that homelessness should not be criminalized have not yet filed a brief in the case.

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  1. Kelly says

    Grants Pass has done nothing to supply shelter for the homeless that means making any effort possible to help their situation these are citizens of this city instead they just want to run all of the homeless out and not have to deal with them just as before the court decision it’s wrong cowardly and unacceptable instead of funding police who are getting millions of dollars for civil forfeiture and funding them through our taxpayers money by raising our utility bills and adding state sales taxes deeper in your pockets and solve this problem morally the correct way.

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