The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday ruled that cities cannot prosecute people for sleeping on the street if they have nowhere to go. Doing so amounts to cruel and unusual punishment, which is illegal under the US Constitution.
“Just as the state may not criminalize the state of being homeless in public places, the state may not criminalize conduct that is an unavoidable consequence of being homeless – namely sitting, lying, or sleeping on the streets,” wrote Judge Marsha Berzon.
The ruling followed a lawsuit filed by six homeless people from Boise, Idaho, who sued the city in 2009 over a local law banning people from sleeping in public areas.
At the time, there were about 4,500 homeless people living in Boise. The city’s homeless shelters had space for only 700 people – and only if those people met certain conditions, including religious participation.
“Criminally punishing homeless people for sleeping on the street when they have nowhere else to go is inhumane, and we applaud the court for holding that it is also unconstitutional,” wrote Maria Foscarinis, executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty.
Foscarinis hopes the ruling will encourage Boise lawmakers to start considering “real solutions” for its homeless problem, while Boise spokesman Mike Journee suggested city attorneys might appeal to the Supreme Court.
The ruling has the potential to affect several West Coast cities struggling with increasing homelessness brought on by rising housing costs.
Author’s Note: Of course you can’t prosecute someone for being homeless.
Capitalism is the most productive economic system ever invented, but it has a flaw in that some individuals will fail, and will fail hard enough to lose their homes. This is inevitable and must be dealt with.
These people should be helped back into society with education and job training, not arrested and thrown into jail. The annoying but apt political slogan is “trampolie, not flypaper.”