9th Circuit: California cities must let homeless sleep on streets

A ruling this month by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals which holds it is unconstitutional to ban homeless people from sleeping on the streets is likely to complicate the attempts to crack down on homelessness problems by local governments in California.

While the ruling involved a 2009 law adopted by Boise, Idaho, it is binding on California, which is one of the states under the 9th appellate court, which is based in San Francisco.

“[J]ust 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,’” Judge Marsha Berzon wrote for a three-judge panel.

The finding that the law is a cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment was welcomed by activists who have long argued that such restrictions make being poor a crime.

Maria Foscarinis, executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, told the Idaho Statesman that “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.” Her group provided an attorney to the handful of Boise homeless men and women who sued over the city’s law.

If Boise does not appeal the ruling, the 9th Circuit will have expanded on the protections for the homeless that it created in 2007. The appellate panel ruled then that Los Angeles could not ban people from sleeping outside when shelters were full.

Legality of living in cars is next battleground

Meanwhile, the next fight over homeless rights in California has already emerged. It involves regulations in many cities that have the de facto effect of banning people from sleeping in their vehicles, even if the practice is not specifically singled out.

In Los Angeles, for example, a city ordinance that bans overnight parking in residential areas and a growing number of such restrictions in commercial areas have made it increasingly difficult for vehicle dwellers to find anywhere to sleep. This has made life difficult for the estimated 15,000 people who live in their cars, trucks or recreational vehicles in the city. The policy prompted sharp criticism from some quarters this spring over a perception that City Hall was insufficiently sympathetic to those without shelter.

City officials in San Diego and Santa Barbara are going in the opposite direction, starting trial programs in which car dwellers are allowed to use a handful of designated parking lots overnight – so long as they meet a handful of rules meant to preserve public safety and to minimize littering and public defecation and urination.

But San Diego may have to expand its program or develop other new policies as well. Last month, federal Judge Anthony Battaglia issued an injunction banning the city from ticketing people for living in their vehicles.

Unlike in the other high-profile federal cases involving city laws and homelessness, Battaglia’s argument wasn’t based on the idea that penalties which appeared to single out the homeless were cruel and unusual.

Instead, he concluded that “plaintiffs have shown a likelihood of success on the merits of their claim that the ordinance is vague because it fails to alert the public what behavior is lawful and what behavior is prohibited.” He noted that some people were given tickets merely for reading books in their cars.

The injunction is not permanent, but Battaglia indicated he is likely to make it so in coming months.

6 comments

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  1. Standing Fast
    Standing Fast 18 September, 2018, 09:19

    The Ninth Circuit Court ruling is insanity. If we keep removing consequences for irresponsible behavior then there will be no incentive for any homeless person to seek help getting their life together.

    When it was just a handful of vagrants hanging around in the streets, the problem was not so serious. But now there are many dozens, even hundreds in larger cities. These people could seek help, in some cities there is ample assistance for anyone in need, but they don’t because they prefer the “freedom” of the streets. Consequently, our public sidewalks are now breeding grounds for all manner of virulent diseases.

    Among other things.

    It is not compassion to stand by and allow this to go on out of a misguided notion of Christian charity. It is not Christian if we are enabling people to continue on the path of self-destruction and it is not charity if we force unwilling participants to give to groups who do this.

    The purpose of government is to protect the lives, Liberty and property of the people. It is not to remove all the pillars of civilization that make Liberty possible.

    Reply this comment
  2. Richard Rider
    Richard Rider 18 September, 2018, 10:08

    Government (or more likely private) agencies should actively try to match employable street people with other low unemployment rate states that would WELCOME workers — even workers making low incomes.

    These programs should assist these homeless people in their move to these states — with a “quick match” job program and affordable (Spartan, private) rental housing waiting at the other end of their journey. Of course, the public somehow thinks that’s a “heartless” policy — preferring massive welfare programs and growing homelessness to this practical alternative — so don’t expect California governments to implement this policy.
    http://riderrants.blogspot.com/2017/10/a-solution-to-employable-homeless.html

    Reply this comment
    • Oregon Bill
      Oregon Bill 18 September, 2018, 21:11

      Sadly I think most of California’s homeless of the last 10-15 years would refuse to leave. They are native californians who have been forced onto the street by 1) absurd cost of housing 2) rock-bottom wages thanks to unlimited immigration driving down wages in the trades and 3) substance abuse.
      These native californians have no where to go. The only hope for saving these people was the ‘tough love’ approach, involving the use of force, that was shot down by the 9th circuit. So now the 9th circuit has ‘discovered’ a right to defecate in the street and lay around in drug-addicted filth in public. Marvelous. So loving and progressive.

      Reply this comment
    • Mike L.
      Mike L. 2 October, 2018, 16:25

      Mr. Rider, Enjoy your column and your blogspot very much. California left-wing liberal Democrats don’t want the bums to leave the State. The bums give the libs a feel-good cause which helps justify their running the State. Without a “cause” libs would simply have no reason to exist.

      Reply this comment
  3. Stu Meatz
    Stu Meatz 20 September, 2018, 06:45

    Dreamforce San Franciso. I love going into SF with a few friends.
    There is a primal happiness that occurs upon seeing some techies from out of town enjoying a boxed convention lunch.
    Catching their attention, dropping the drawers, and defecating a massive, steamy pile, is bliss. I left last nights 3 enchilada combo in San Francisco.

    Reply this comment
  4. torabora
    torabora 26 September, 2018, 23:07

    Well the homeless DO have somewhere else to go, but they won’t go there. 9th Circus

    Reply this comment

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Chris Reed

Chris Reed

Chris Reed is a regular contributor to Cal Watchdog. Reed is an editorial writer for U-T San Diego. Before joining the U-T in July 2005, he was the opinion-page columns editor and wrote the featured weekly Unspin column for The Orange County Register. Reed was on the national board of the Association of Opinion Page Editors from 2003-2005. From 2000 to 2005, Reed made more than 100 appearances as a featured news analyst on Los Angeles-area National Public Radio affiliate KPCC-FM. From 1990 to 1998, Reed was an editor, metro columnist and film critic at the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Ontario. Reed has a political science degree from the University of Hawaii (Hilo campus), where he edited the student newspaper, the Vulcan News, his senior year. He is on Twitter: @chrisreed99.

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