Supreme Court to review homelessness case that's been preventing encampment sweeps

Tara Campbell Image
Thursday, April 4, 2024
SCOTUS to review decision preventing homeless encampment sweeps
The US Supreme Court is set to review a decision later this month that's been preventing cities from sweeping encampments.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Wednesday marked a key deadline in the battle over how cities can manage and solve homelessness. The US Supreme Court is set to review a decision later this month that's been preventing cities from sweeping encampments, and everyone from the Governor to homeless advocates want their say.

"The big question for the US Supreme Court is can you criminalize poverty and homelessness," said legal analyst, Steven Clark.

VIDEO: The push to promote shelters, prohibit illegal unhoused encampments in Bay Area communities

Ending the era of encampments and providing an alternative to the streets is a push from many Bay Area communities.

Clark is referring to the heart of a case that stems from litigation in Oregon - where two homeless people challenged an ordinance in the city of Grants Pass banning people camping in public spaces.

An appellate court sided with the duo saying it violates the constitution's limit on cruel and unusual punishment, adding you can't stop people from sleeping in public space if you don't provide an alternative.

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"The big question will be if there's not a place for someone to go such as a homeless shelter how can you then put them in jail or give them a fine," explained Clark. "I think that's where the court is going to have to analyze this question."

The high court announced in January it would take up Grants Pass v Johnson, and the amicus briefs have since been flooding in.

"We, along with the State of California, along with most major cities on the West Coast, are asking the Supreme Court to really correct this legal error in the Grants Pass case and allow our cities to effectively combat our homelessness crisis," said San Francisco City Attorney, David Chiu, noting the lower court's ruling has been crippling the city's efforts to get people off the streets.

VIDEO: A look at SF's struggle to clear homeless encampments as hundreds wait for shelters

As demand grows, waitlists for San Francisco's housing and emergency shelters for individuals experiencing homelessness get longer.

"We want to be able to give the option to folks who are unhoused on the streets to avail themselves of the services and shelter beds and housing opportunities our city is offering, but if you choose not to accept that we need to clear our streets," Chiu said.

"We're deeply concerned that if this law is overturned local governments will be able to legally cite and arrest unhoused people who have no other choice but to sleep outdoors," said Jennifer Friedenbach, Executive Director of the Coalition on Homelessness.

The Coalition signed onto an amicus brief urging the justices to uphold the lower court's ruling.

MORE: SF claims homeless individuals decline shelter 60% of the time but some say that's inaccurate

"In the end arresting and citing people who are homeless just exacerbates the problem and wastes resources and puts us backwards and we'd like to see us move forward," Friedenbach said.

The Supreme is set to hear the case on April 22, with a ruling expected this summer.

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