The 9th Circuit decision applies in nine Western states, including California, where cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco have seen the population of those experiencing homelessness explode because of soaring housing prices and income inequality.
The 9th Circuit said the Eighth Amendment “prohibits the imposition of criminal penalties for sitting, sleeping, or lying outside on public property for homeless individuals who cannot obtain shelter.”
The decision added that “just 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.”
Boise, joined by other cities covered by the decision, and activists for those experiencing homelessness differed on its ramifications.
“The creation of a de facto constitutional right to live on sidewalks and in parks will cripple the ability of more than 1,600 municipalities in the Ninth Circuit to maintain the health and safety of their communities,” Boise argued. “Public encampments, now protected by the Constitution under the Ninth Circuit’s decision, have spawned crime and violence, incubated disease, and created environmental hazards that threaten the lives and well-being both of those living on the streets and the public at large.”
But activists, including the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, said the city and its advocates had exaggerated the breadth of the 9th Circuit’s decision to try to win Supreme Court review.
“It does no more than prohibit the imposition of criminal penalties against homeless individuals who engage in the simple act of sleeping outside when no alternative shelter is available to them — something that already is supposed to be prohibited under Boise’s current law,” the activists said.
“That result is limited in scope and reflects the ought-to-be uncontroversial principle that a person may not be charged with a crime for engaging in activity that is simply a universal and unavoidable consequence of being human,” they said.
The Boise case dates back a decade, when Robert Martin and five other people experiencing homelessness were given tickets of $25 to $75 for camping on sidewalks or in parks.
The case is Boise v. Martin.