L.A. Joins Effort to Have Supreme Court Take Case on Where Homeless People Can Sleep

Tents line the street in Skid Row in Los Angeles on Sept. 17, 2019. (Credit: Robyn Beck / AFP / Getty Images)

Tents line the street in Skid Row in Los Angeles on Sept. 17, 2019. (Credit: Robyn Beck / AFP / Getty Images)

Los Angeles has joined an effort to get the U.S. Supreme Court to review a decision that restricts efforts to bar homeless people from sleeping on sidewalks in Western states.

City Attorney Mike Feuer on Wednesday announced his office has filed a brief asking the nation’s highest court to take the case of Martin v. Boise.

The city of Boise, Idaho, is seeking to overturn a ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that said it was unconstitutional to arrest or otherwise sanction homeless people who sleep on sidewalks when there aren’t enough shelter beds.

Dozens of municipalities have filed similar “friend of the court” briefs.

Feuer said the appeals court ruling’s lack of clarity will make it hard for cities to respond to the homeless crisis with “humane, practical” solutions.

“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,” the brief states.

The filing comes as Los Angeles and many other places across the West Coast are struggling with homelessness brought on by rising housing costs and income inequality.

Last year, the appeals court sided with six homeless people from Boise who sued the city in 2009 over a local ordinance that banned sleeping in public spaces.

The three-judge panel for the 9th Circuit found that Boise’s shelter rules meant homeless people would still be at risk of prosecution even on days when beds were open.

Other cities have faced similar lawsuits, with varying results.

In 2007, the 9th Circuit ruled in favor of homeless residents of Los Angeles, finding that as long as there are more homeless residents than there are shelter beds, a law outlawing sleeping outside was unconstitutional. Both sides later reached an agreement, and the entire case was eventually thrown out.

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