Supreme Court to Review Rulings on Cities’ Ability to Regulate Homelessness in the Western U.S.

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court has agreed to review lower-court rulings that have made it more difficult for cities in the western United States to regulate homelessness. The case stems from the city of Grants Pass, located in southwest Oregon, and has attracted the support of California Governor Gavin Newsom, as well as other Democratic and Republican officials who have struggled with rising housing costs and income inequality.

The move by the Supreme Court comes just a day after a panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower-court ruling preventing San Francisco from enforcing anti-camping ordinances. Similarly, another panel in the 9th circuit ruled in the case of Grants Pass that the city could not enforce local ordinances prohibiting homeless people from using sleeping gear for protection from the elements. These rulings apply to nine western states, including Arizona, California, and Nevada.

These rulings, along with a previous decision by the 9th circuit in 2018 relating to Boise, Idaho, have found that punishing people for sleeping on the streets when there are no alternative shelters available is a violation of the Constitution and constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment.”

Elected officials from various cities have urged the Supreme Court to take up the case, arguing that these rulings complicate their efforts to address tent encampments, which have become more widespread across the country. The issue of homelessness has been exacerbated by a lack of affordable housing, the economic impact of the pandemic, and limited access to mental health and addiction treatment.

Homeless individuals and their advocates argue that these encampment sweeps are inhumane and wasteful. They believe that the focus should be on providing more housing rather than cracking down on the homeless population. Despite increased efforts and funding from cities like Los Angeles and New York, the number of tents on sidewalks and in parks has not significantly decreased.

The Supreme Court’s decision to review these rulings will have significant implications for how cities across the country address homelessness. It remains to be seen whether the case will be argued in the spring or fall. However, this review highlights the urgency of finding effective solutions to the ongoing crisis of homelessness in America.