Wed, Jul

Decision Day For The Homeless Is Approaching


DEEGAN ON LA—-The homeless in Los Angeles could win a huge victory depending on what the US Supreme Court decides about the constitutionality of municipal ordinances against camping on public property by the homeless when they have nowhere else to go. Los Angeles currently has this type of “housing” restriction.

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that denying public camping in these circumstances is equivalent to cruel and unusual punishment. The City Manager of Bend, Oregon disagreed and asked the US Supreme Court to hear an appeal. 

The court has announced an April 9 hearing date and says it will issue a decision by June when the current term ends.

Two tiny hamlets, neither of them in Los Angeles, let alone California, have outsized influence over homeless policies in the Golden State and, because its SCOTUS, nationwide. Los Angeles and its chronic homeless problem will feel the results, pro or con, directly. City laws and policy may need to be altered depending on how the court rules.

The path that initially led to the 9th’s decision, that will now be reviewed by the Supreme Court, began with homeless laws in Boise, Idaho (pop. 237,000), and Grants Pass, Oregon (pop. 39,000)

The Boise case decided that “homeless persons cannot be punished for sleeping outside on public property in the absence of adequate alternatives.”

The Grants Pass case said that “ordinances regulating homelessness were unconstitutional, due to what they considered cruel and unusual punishment and excessive fines.”

Telegraphing his concern several months ago was Grants Pass City Manager Aaron Cubic, who stated that “We’re looking at asking the Supreme Court to take a look at the 9th Circuit court’s ruling.”

“We hoped the full 9th Circuit would reconsider recent decisions that have contributed to the growing problem of encampments in cities across the West,” the city’s counsel Theane Evangelis said. “The 9th Circuit’s decisions in this case and Martin v. Boise are legally wrong and are only harming the very people they were meant to help.”

Is a wake up call for the woke on the agenda? Will the heavily conservative Republican majority on the highest court rule in favor of maintaining the ban and disappoint progressives? 

At what point are homeless protected from being ousted from public spaces when the ousting city governments are trying to dislodge the unsheltered without providing a shelter?

Candidates for all even-numbered City Council seats have been gifted with a topic to jawbone up to March 5 Primary Day, taking whatever side of the issue they feel their constituents will respond to. Their rhetoric is basically a toothless paper-tiger; nothing they say, do or promise will impact the nation’s highest court. 

Politicos have had many years of failing to stem and reverse the troubling increase of homeless. Now, the Supreme Court, not the politicos, will have the final say on this aspect of homeless housing policy.

Whatever the politicos may promise will be repackaged into the guidelines the  Court decides. The homeless have lots to gain or lose.

Depending on the courts decision, City Attorney Hyde Feldstein Soto could be in the firing line along with Mayor Karen Bass and the city council members, as well as the LAPD that is now leaderless due to the recent sudden retirement of the Police Chief.

There’s often an “X-factor” in politics. This time it may the initials S-C-O-T-U-S.

(Tim Deegan is a civic activist whose Deegan on LA weekly column about city planning, new urbanism, the environment, and the homeless appear in CityWatch. Tim can be reached at [email protected].)

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