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Homelessness and the Courts

Homeless on the streets
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Kerby Andersonnever miss viewpoints

Let’s start with an obvious statement: there are no easy answers for cities trying to deal with homelessness on their streets. But a recent court decision coupled with a decision by the Supreme Court to avoid the issue won’t help those cities in the western states.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down an attempt by Boise, Idaho to deal with people camping and sleeping on sidewalks. The court declared that giving a homeless person a ticket for sleeping on sidewalks or in parks was a violation of the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. The Supreme Court decided to not review the lower courts decision.

At the very least, the high court should have commented on the bizarre argument that the Eighth Amendment “prohibits the imposition of criminal penalties for sitting, sleeping, or lying outside on public property for homeless individuals.” I doubt the framers had homelessness in mind when they added this amendment to the Bill of Rights.

The lawyers arguing to the city are concerned that this is the “creation of a de facto constitutional right to live on sidewalks and in parks” that will ultimately “cripple the ability of more than 1,600 municipalities in the Ninth Circuit to maintain the health and safety of their communities.”

Ben Shapiro expressed his concern that the ruling established being homeless as a “state” of being, sort of like an immutable characteristic. But it can be regulated, even if imposing a fine is probably not the best way to deal with homelessness. The ruling seems to suggest that “cities cannot do anything to effectively police those sleeping on the streets” and thus lead to the “spread of diseases, the degradation of public spaces, and an increase in street crime.”

The homeless problem is bad now, but this lower court decision and the high court non-decision will make the problem so much worse.

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