Supreme Court to Review Controversial Rulings on Homeless Encampments in Western US Cities

Grants Pass, a city in southwest Oregon, has received support from California Governor Gavin Newsom, as well as other Democratic and Republican elected officials, in its appeal to the Supreme Court. The city is challenging lower-court rulings that have made it more difficult for cities in the western United States to regulate homelessness and prevent people from sleeping on the streets when there is a shortage of beds in homeless shelters. Rising housing costs and income inequality have contributed to a rise in homelessness in many cities.

The decision by the Supreme Court to review the lower-court rulings comes shortly after a panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower-court ruling that blocked anti-camping ordinances in San Francisco. These ordinances aimed to regulate homeless individuals’ use of blankets, pillows, or cardboard boxes for protection from the elements. The ruling applies to nine western states, including California, Arizona, and Washington.

This issue is part of a larger problem of homelessness in the United States. The federal count of homeless people reached 580,000 in 2023, and it continues to be a growing concern. In Gaston County, North Carolina, there are approximately 250 homeless individuals. City Councilmember Robert Kellogg recognizes the concerns surrounding homelessness but emphasizes that it is not just about punishing those in need, but also about addressing public health and safety challenges.

The previous court rulings and the ongoing case highlight a debate about whether punishing people for sleeping on the streets when there are no alternative shelters available constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment.” Advocates for the homeless argue that the focus should be on providing more housing, rather than cracking down on homeless individuals. The current circumstances, such as a lack of affordable housing, the economic impact of the pandemic, and limited access to mental health and addiction treatment, have contributed to the increase in homelessness.

Elected officials are urging the Supreme Court to take up the case in order to resolve the complexities surrounding the regulation of tent encampments. These encampments have become more common not only on the West Coast but also throughout the United States. Governor Newsom believes that the Supreme Court’s intervention can bring an end to costly delays caused by lawsuits and facilitate the clearing of encampments while providing necessary services to the homeless.

It remains uncertain whether the Supreme Court will hear the case in the spring or fall. However, the outcome of this case could have significant implications for how cities across the western United States address homelessness. The court’s decision will have an impact on the effectiveness of anti-camping ordinances and the ability of local governments to regulate homelessness within their jurisdictions.

In summary, the Supreme Court has agreed to review lower-court rulings that make it harder for western cities to address homelessness by penalizing people for sleeping on the streets when there are limited shelter options. The case brought forth by Grants Pass, Oregon, has garnered support from Governor Newsom and other elected officials. The court’s decision will shape the future of homelessness regulations and the approach taken by cities to tackle this ongoing crisis.