Supreme Court Refuses to Revive City’s Outdoor-Sleeping Ban

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(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Supreme Court let stand a ruling that said homeless people have a constitutional right to sleep on public property outdoors if no other shelter is available to them.

The justices without comment on Monday turned away an appeal by Boise, Idaho, which said the federal appeals court ruling would leave cities “powerless” to address residents’ health and safety concerns.

The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Boise would be violating the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishments by enforcing criminal penalties under its anti-camping ordinance when its three homeless shelters are full.

“The state may not criminalize conduct that is an unavoidable consequence of being homeless -- namely sitting, lying, or sleeping on the streets,” the 9th Circuit said.

The ruling, which applies in nine Western states, prompted an outpouring of calls for Supreme Court intervention from cities, states and local business associations. Los Angeles, which has 36,000 homeless people, said the decision “raises daunting practical issues” for large cities.

Critics of the ruling filed 20 friend-of-the-court briefs urging review, an unusually large number at that stage of a case.

Boise said that because of the ruling, “many municipalities have abandoned efforts to contain the threats to public health and safety posed by encampments rather than face litigation and potential civil liability.”

The case is City of Boise v. Martin, 19-247.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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