In response to moves by several cities in recent years that have adopted rules to punish or arrest people for sleeping on the streets, a federal court has said that such ordinances are “illegal” and should be repealed.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers nine states in the western U.S., including California and Washington, said that it’s illegal for cities to criminalize those who camp or sleep in public when they have nowhere else to go. The lawsuit, Martin v. City of Boise, called into question how cities enforce laws about sleeping in public, specifically aimed at the homeless population.
“The government cannot criminalize indigent, homeless people for sleeping outdoors, on public property, on the false premise they had a choice in the matter,” the court’s ruling stated.
The ruling means that cities can only arrest or punish people for sleeping on the streets if they provide “adequate and relatively accessible” indoor accommodations for homeless people.
Eve Garrow, a homelessness policy analyst and advocate for the American Civil Liberties Union, told Curbed.com that the ruling was important as many cities were punishing people for unavoidable behavior.
“From a public policy perspective, they don’t make sense, they send the wrong message, they treat those who are poor as criminals, and create fear and mistrust of those experiencing homelessness,” Garrow said.
Many cities have adjusted their policies in response to the ruling. For example, San Francisco, Portland, and Sacramento have stopped enforcing rules regarding sleeping in public parks and sidewalks based on the new precedent, Curbed.com reported.