Increasingly fed up with homeless encampments that have led to squalid conditions in public places, frustrated politicians from both sides of the aisle filed a flurry of legal briefs this week, asking the Supreme Court to review lower court rulings that they say have limited their ability to clear them.
The New York Times reported that the urgent court petitions come as officials across the country try to rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic and restore a sense of normalcy in urban areas. They implored the justices to allow them to remove homeless individuals from their streets without violating court rulings that have protected their civil rights.
“The friction in many communities affected by homelessness is at a breaking point,” the attorneys for Las Vegas, Seattle and more than a dozen other cities reportedly wrote in one brief. “Despite massive infusions of public resources, businesses and residents are suffering the increasingly negative effects of long-term urban camping.”
Homeless rights advocates the Times spoke with agreed that tent cities were unsafe for both homeless individuals and their communities, but said the emerging legal campaign against them failed to provide additional help or housing.
“They’re seeking to blame and penalize and marginalize the victims rather than take the steps they haven’t found the political will to take,” Eric Tars, senior policy director at the National Homelessness Law Center, said.
More than 170,000 people are homeless in California alone, which represents about one-third of the nation’s homeless population. A federal tally of homelessness conducted last year found that more than 115,000 homeless Californians sleep on the streets, in cars or in other outdoor places.
In a case from Boise, Idaho, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit found that it was unconstitutional for cities to break down homeless camps and criminally charge people unless they could provide alternative housing. Five years and billions in public spending later, few cities in the nine Western states covered by the circuit have enough shelter beds to accommodate everyone who is homeless in their municipalities.
The Times reported that more than 50 governments and organizations have asked the Supreme Court to overturn recent Ninth Circuit decisions on homelessness. This month’s filings stem from a case in Grants Pass, Oregon, which had reportedly issued civil citations instead of criminal ones when people camp in public places. The city stopped issuing municipal tickets after the Ninth Circuit determined they were also not allowed.
California Democrat Gov. Gavin Newsom said in his brief that he supported the Boise decision at first, but that it had been so expanded and “distorted” that it now was enabling a “humanitarian crisis.”
“It’s just gone too far,” Newsom said in a Sacramento forum held by Politico this month. “People’s lives are at risk. It’s unacceptable, what’s happening on streets and sidewalks.”
Where voters initially tolerated the homeless encampments that sprang up in some West Coast cities during the pandemic, patience has seemingly worn thin now that life has mostly returned to normal. As pandemic worries have waned, the public has regularly named homelessness as a top concern.
Apart from Newsom, officials from some of the most liberal areas in the Ninth Circuit, including San Francisco, Los Angeles and Honolulu, have united with some of the most conservative in appealing to the Supreme Court.
“The more the merrier,” Timothy Sandefur, vice president for legal affairs at the Goldwater Institute, a conservative think tank in Arizona, said. “When somebody comes to see the light, you don’t berate them for spending all this time in the darkness — you praise them for seeing the truth.”
Nicole Wells ✉
Nicole Wells, a Newsmax general assignment reporter covers news, politics, and culture. She is a National Newspaper Association award-winning journalist.
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