The city of Los Angeles and a Venice community group filed briefs with the U.S. Supreme Court Wednesday in support of an appeal of a ruling that prevents local governments from enforcing laws against camping on sidewalks or in other public places unless sufficient alternative shelter space is available.
“By raising more issues than it resolves, the decision leaves jurisdictions like Los Angeles without the certainty necessary to balance intensely competing interests without risking costly and time-consuming litigation,” according to the friend-of-the-court brief filed by the city of Los Angeles.
City Attorney Mike Feuer said the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in the case dubbed Martin v. Boise “could place the city at risk of litigation as leaders strive to fashion the humane, practical solutions this crisis urgently demands. We hope the Supreme Court will take the case and provide needed guidance.”
The city of Boise, Idaho, petitioned the nation’s highest court in August to review the ruling.
Attorney Jeffrey Lewis also filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case on behalf of the Venice Stakeholders Association.
“…The VSA has grappled with the horrendous impact of the increase of the homeless population in Venice from approximately 400 persons in 2014 to 1,100 persons now, as documented by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s annual homeless count,” the filing states.
The Martin v. Boise decision, according to the brief, “has made living in encampments preferable to accepting available options to leave the streets; food, water, blankets and tents are delivered by well-meaning service agencies, showers and restrooms are open 24 hours a few blocks away, and there is no rent.”
As Los Angeles continues its campaign to build more than 10,000 permanent supportive housing units for homeless people by 2026, frustration has grown regarding the time it has taken to get more people off the streets.
Venice, in particular, has harbored many of the city’s chronically homeless and organizations such as the VSA have sought stricter regulations on where people can sleep.
Last week, a divided Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to support an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“The reality is, it has tied our hands in the county and made it more difficult for us to serve our homeless neighbors,” said Supervisor Kathryn Barger. The ruling “places an unworkable burden on this county,” she said, noting that it would take decades to build enough alternative shelter space for the nearly 60,000 homeless people in the county.
In their motion to support an appeal, Barger and Supervisor Janice Hahn wrote that local governments “need to have the ability to regulate public camping to protect everyone, especially the most vulnerable and in need.”
“Unregulated encampments can create a public health crisis to those inside and outside those encampments,” according to the motion. “The county has already seen the spread of communicable diseases in public areas, with recent outbreaks of medieval-era illnesses such as typhus and tuberculosis. … Anti-camping laws should exist to protect everyone equally. Without the ability to enforce such laws, homeless individuals living in encampments are vulnerable to becoming victims of crime.”
Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis disagreed. Kuehl said it “would be a mistake” to put the issue in the hands of “a terrible United States Supreme Court” that might issue an even more onerous ruling, and Solis said supporting an appeal of the ruling is akin to supporting the criminalization of homelessness.
“Individuals experiencing homelessness can’t be criminalized for sitting, lying or sleeping on public property when there is insufficient housing or shelter,” Solis said. “The fact is that we don’t have enough shelters. … I don’t think this is going to solve the problem, and I don’t think I want to be part of that group that will criminalize people for sleeping on the street.”
Eric Tars, an attorney who represented the plaintiffs in the original lawsuit against the city of Boise, recently said the 9th Circuit ruling does not handcuff local governments in their dealings with the homeless.
“The simple fact is that every human being needs a safe, legal place to sleep,” Tars told the Idaho Statesman. “Far from crippling cities, the 9th Circuit’s decision recognizes this truth and leaves cities a wide range of constructive ways of addressing homelessness which are more effective, and cost-effective, than continuing to lock people up or give them fines for simply needing to sleep safely at night.”
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