BOISE, Idaho - A ruling in 2018 by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals was upheld on Monday, which states homeless persons cannot be punished for sleeping in cities that don't offer alternatives.
On April 1, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected an en banc petition by the city of Boise in Martin v. Boise, upholding its ruling in September 2018 that states homeless persons cannot be punished for sleeping outside on public property in the absence of adequate alternatives.
“Criminally punishing homeless people for sleeping on the street when they have nowhere else to go is inhumane, and we applaud the Court for ruling that it is also unconstitutional,” said Maria Foscarinis, executive director at the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty. “It’s time for Boise to stop trying to hide its homelessness problem with unconstitutional ordinances, and start proposing real solutions.”
Last September, a panel of the Ninth Circuit agreed with the central premise in the suit, holding that “as long as there is no option of sleeping indoors, the government cannot criminalize indigent, homeless people for sleeping outdoors, on public property, on the false premise they had a choice in the matter.”
Following the ruling last year, the city of Boise petitioned the Ninth Circuit to rehear the case en banc. On Monday, the court rejected that request, thereby affirming that within the western states that make up the Ninth Circuit, “the Eighth Amendment preclude[s] the enforcement of a statute prohibiting sleeping outside against homeless individuals with no access to alternative shelter.”
The number of homeless individuals in Grant County continues to decrease, according to data collected during the annual point-in-time homeless count.
The Jan. 24 homeless count offers a snapshot of those experiencing homelessness on any given night.
During this year’s count, 82 unsheltered individuals were counted, including eight children and three veterans. Last year, 88 individuals were counted, according to the Grant County Homeless Task Force.
Data shows the number of homeless in the county has been on the decline since 2014.
“We are pleased that the Ninth Circuit held that the Constitution ‘prohibits the imposition of criminal penalties for sitting, sleeping, or lying outside on public property for homeless individuals who cannot obtain shelter,’” said Michael Bern, lead pro bono counsel from Latham & Watkins, who argued the case before the Ninth Circuit. Bern continued, "As the Department of Justice recognized earlier in this case, ‘[c]riminalizing public sleeping in cities with insufficient housing and support for homeless individuals does not improve public safety outcomes or reduce the factors that contribute to homelessness.’ With today’s decision, we hope that cities can redirect their efforts to identifying meaningful and constitutional solutions to the problem of homelessness.”