Can cities fine unhoused people for sleeping outside?

SCOTUS will weigh in on an issue that continues to impact local and state governments.

The most significant case in decades on homelessness has reached the Supreme Court as record numbers of people in America are without a permanent place to live.

The justices on Monday will consider a challenge to rulings from a California-based appeals court that found punishing people for sleeping outside when shelter space is lacking amounts to unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment.

A political cross section of officials in the West and California, home to nearly one-third of the nation’s homeless population, argue those decisions have restricted them from “common sense” measures intended to keep homeless encampments from taking over public parks and sidewalks.

Advocacy groups say the decisions provide essential legal protections, especially with an increasing number of people forced to sleep outdoors as the cost of housing soars.

The case before the Supreme Court comes from Grants Pass, a small city nestled in the mountains of southern Oregon, where rents are rising and there is just one overnight shelter for adults. As a growing number of tents clustered its parks, the city banned camping and set $295 fines for people sleeping there.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals largely blocked the camping ban under its finding that it is unconstitutional to punish people for sleeping outside when there is not adequate shelter space. Grants Pass appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing the ruling left it few good options.

“It really has made it impossible for cities to address growing encampments, and they’re unsafe, unhealthy and problematic for everyone, especially those who are experiencing homelessness,” said lawyer Theane Evangelis, who is representing Grants Pass.

The city is also challenging a 2018 decision, known as Martin v. Boise, that first barred camping bans when shelter space is lacking. It was issued by the San Francisco-based 9th Circuit and applies to the nine Western states in its jurisdiction. The Supreme Court declined to take up a different challenge to the ruling in 2019, before the solidification of its current conservative majority.

Two of four states with the country’s largest homeless populations, Washington and California, are in the West. Officials in cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco say they do not want to punish people simply because they are forced to sleep outside, but that cities need the power to keep growing encampments in check.

“I never want to criminalize homelessness, but I want to be able to encourage people to accept services and shelter,” said Thien Ho, the district attorney in Sacramento, California, where homelessness has risen sharply in recent years.

San Francisco says it has been blocked from enforcing camping regulations because the city does not have enough shelter space for its full homeless population, something it estimates would cost $1.5 billion to provide.

“These encampments frequently block sidewalks, prevent employees from cleaning public thoroughfares, and create health and safety risks for both the unhoused and the public at large,” lawyers for the city wrote. City workers have also encountered knives, drug dealing and belligerent people at encampments, they said.

Several cities and Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom urged the high court to keep some legal protections in place while reining in “overreach” by lower courts. The Martin v. Boise ruling allows cities to regulate and “sweep” encampments, but not enforce total bans in communities without enough beds in shelters.

The Justice Department also backed the idea that people shouldn’t be punished for sleeping outside when they have no where else to go, but said the Grants Pass ruling should be tossed out because 9th Circuit went awry by not defining what it means to be “involuntarily homeless.”


Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Associated Press


  • Speedy Gonzalez

    April 20, 2024 at 4:09 pm

    Mr. Earl say these associat press stories all bad fake news. And Earl says no to Gaveron Poosome in LA too mucho poopey streets hot turd squish up between toes
    not good way to be running city or state. SloPoke says no to poopy turd toes gavin poosome.
    Speedy an Slopoke


      April 20, 2024 at 4:27 pm

      Thanks Speedy & SloPoke,
      While I, Earl Pitts American, may have used a different choice and combination of Sage Words to describe the Newsome/Kalafornia stink problem …. what I may have said and what you & SloPoke said in the end mean the exact same thing.
      Guys I especially love the hot freash +urds squishing up betwixt your toes analogy.
      Anyone whose ever had a dog knows that extra yuck moment of a barefoot stroll in your yard and the Hot Freash Stinky Squishing up Be-Twixt your toes feeling.
      Walking Bare-Foot in LA ….. NO THANKS GAVIN POOSOME.
      Thank you America,
      I dont think anyone could “Relax Their Political Sphincters” and think of the Smelly Brown Squishing Up BeTwixt Your Toes at the same time.
      Thank you America,
      We are suspending any and all Sphincter Relaxation tonight.
      All Sphincters are to be held at DEF-CONN 5 PUCKER FACTOR until further notice.

      • rick whitaker

        April 20, 2024 at 10:26 pm


      • Monday news

        April 23, 2024 at 8:20 am

        What bank and country owns the complexes?
        Why the dealers live in Mansions and being used as the excuse of being in the streets.
        Why are all getting overpriced and new migrants seems to nessile nicely into 5000 a month payment’s and you all get prison sentences and break rocks

    • rick whitaker

      April 20, 2024 at 10:25 pm


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    April 20, 2024 at 7:56 pm

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  • Michael K

    April 20, 2024 at 8:31 pm

    Criminalizing homelessness does not solve the problem. Saying that all people who are unhoused are drug addicts are mentally ill is incorrect and demeaning. There needs to be an examination of the root causes of situations and circumstances that contribute to homelessness in America. Florida has at least 6% of America’s homeless population and some of the highest percentages of families and veterans. It is not a “California” problem. It is everywhere. Any one of us could find ourselves homeless.

  • Monday news

    April 22, 2024 at 4:36 pm

    It is a toss up slavery. and homeless, and extortion you pay rents or get hurt almost to say it’s is all made for 70 thousand and up income

Comments are closed.


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