LOS ANGELES – The ability of local governments to enact and enforce restrictions on homeless people sleeping on sidewalks or in other public areas was left in doubt Monday when the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a lower court ruling barring such regulations unless adequate shelter space is available.
The county of Los Angeles, along with a host of other government agencies, had filed court papers in support of an appeal of the ruling in the case known as Martin v. City of Boise. The ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals essentially bars cities and counties from citing people for sleeping on sidewalks unless there is enough alternative shelter space available for the homeless.
The U.S. Supreme Court, however, declined to hear the case, meaning the 9th Circuit ruling will stand.
“With unprecedented numbers of people falling into homelessness nationwide, we are experiencing an urgent humanitarian crisis,” Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said. “More than 1,000 individuals will die on Los Angeles County streets this year. Supporting the city of Boise’s position to appeal to the Supreme Court was never an attempt to criminalize the homeless. Rather, it was a pursuit of a legal framework that is clear, in comparison to a status quo that is ambiguous and confusing.”
Ridley-Thomas said the ruling only hampers the county’s ability to help people living on the streets, and the decision will continue to create unsafe and unhealthy conditions.
On the other side, homeless advocacy organizations celebrated the Supreme Court’s decision not to hear the case as a victory for people who have had negative experiences with homeless service officials and the police.
“We’re glad that the fate of our neighbors doesn’t rest with a very conservative Supreme Court,” the Los Angeles-based homeless advocacy organization KTown for All stated on Twitter. “This news is a serious relief to a number of homeless residents, service providers and advocates.”