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

GRANTS PASS, Ore. — A lower court ruling recently determined that punishing people for sleeping in public places when it was not practically possible to find space in a shelter should be regarded as cruel and unusual punishment as set out in the 8th Amendment. The Supreme Court has now indicated that they will review this ruling, but it could make it more difficult for cities in the western United States to prevent people from sleeping on the streets when a bed in a homeless shelter can’t be found.

This development comes as cities from New York to Los Angeles are increasing efforts to clear encampments because of growing public pressure to address what some regard as dangerous and unsanitary living conditions. Tens of millions of dollars have been spent over the last few years, but there is little evidence of what it has been spent on. More and more tents are being propped up on sidewalks, at freeway off-ramps, and in parks.

Ruling in the 9th circuit panel in an Oregon case, the judge stated that Grants Pass may not enforce local ordinances prohibiting homeless people “from using a blanket, pillow, or cardboard box for protection from the elements,” and the decision applies across nine western states. This followed a 2018 decision from the Circuit Court in Boise, Idaho, which also ruled that punishing people for sleeping on the streets despite not having alternative shelter amounts to cruel and unusual punishment- a violation of the Constitution.

Oregon Law Center had requested the Supreme Court to review the case and the center’s Ed Johnson- a lawyer acting for homeless people who has challenged the Grants Pass ordinances, said that the case pivoted on a single issue. The question of whether cities can make it illegal to live outside when people cannot get inside is the crucial one. Although they are looking forward to presenting their case, Johnson highlighted that the decision is a narrow one.

Johnson confirmed that the Eighth Amendment is at the heart of their case and the question is whether it is violated by the city when they prosecute or punish people sleeping outside who simply have no alternative. It is about status: where the status of a person is homeless, with no alternative.

Tents, encampments, or a city’s ability to regulate and sweep camps have nothing to do with the case, and the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals specifically stated this week that cities may still do that. The Circuit Court panel affirmed the lower-court ruling that blocked anti-camping ordinances in San Francisco, where California Governor Gavin Newsom was once mayor.

With the backing of Newsom- a Democrat, and other Democratic as well as Republican elected officials in southwest Oregon, the justices will hear the appeal from the city of Grants Pass, in southwest Oregon, that has the backing of California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, as well as other Democratic and Republican The officials have been struggling to address homelessness arising from income equality and rising housing costs.

Johnson confirmed that all the data and studies indicate that it will make matters worse to criminalize people living outside as it does not solve the problem of homelessness. He believes that it wastes money and destabilizes people who are trying- unsuccessfully, to get inside.

Across the US, the number of homeless people reached 580,000 last year. This was driven by a lack of affordable housing, and a lack of access to mental health and addiction treatment, complicated by a pandemic that wrecked household finances. Homeless people are also convinced that the sweeps are cruel, as well as a waste of taxpayer money. They say the answer is more housing, not more crackdowns.

The City of Grants Pass indicated that they will not be commenting on the case. All inquiries have been referred to their legal counsel, while the Supreme Court is expected to announce when the matter will be heard.



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