A Victory For the Homeless
If you're homeless in Los Angeles, the city doesn't want you on its sidewalks -- at least, not unless you're walking. The city passed an ordinance (unenforced for many years) that criminalizes sitting, laying, or sleeping on public sidewalks. That law narrows the options when homeless shelters are full -- a frequent occurrence in a city that is home to more than 80,000 people who lack homes on any given night. LA's Skid Row contains the largest concentration of the homeless in the country, but Skid Row parks are closed to the public at night. Where are the homeless who can't find shelter to sleep, if not on sidewalks?
As a result of the expansive reach of section 41.18(d), the extreme lack of available shelter in Los Angeles, and the large homeless population, thousands of people violate the Los Angeles ordinance every day and night, and many are arrested, losing what few possessions they may have.
Yesterday, the Ninth Circuit told Los Angeles that it may not criminalize the status of being homeless, or "acts that are an integral aspect of that status." Most people do not choose to be homeless, and the Eighth Amendment's protection against cruel and unusual punishment prohibits the government from punishing individuals for sleeping on sidewalks when they have no other choice. As the linked article suggests, this "could be a far-reaching victory for homeless advocates."
ACLU attorney Mark Rosenbaum, who argued the case before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, called it the most significant decision ever reached involving the homeless.
"What this says is that the city can no longer consider homelessness a crime," Rosenbaum said. "It can have reasonable restrictions on its city streets, but it can't have a 24-7 ban.
"The city and the county need to provide shelter for the homeless. My hope is that the city will now treat homelessness as a social problem affecting all of us, not a crime."
The decision is here (pdf).
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