More than a decade ago, Los Angeles stopped putting people in jail for sleeping in the streets — a compromise laid out in a court settlement that halted police enforcement of laws barring encampments in public spaces until the city could build more housing for homeless people.
That 2007 settlement, commonly known as the Jones agreement, came the year after a ruling from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that found L.A.’s sweeps of homeless encampments on skid row were cruel and unusual punishment. Then last September, in a case from Boise, Idaho, the same court issued a similar ruling, saying that prosecuting people for sleeping on the sidewalk when there are not enough shelter beds or housing was unconstitutional.
The latter decision turned what was supposed to be a stopgap arrangement in L.A. into a sweeping and potentially open-ended curb on police powers in nine Western states, including in California, where an affordable housing shortage and an explosion of homelessness has made providing sufficient shelter a tough — if not impossible — proposition.
Now, Theodore B. Olson, a conservative legal hero who has argued 63 times before the U.S. Supreme Court, has launched an appeal that could restore L.A.’s authority to clear street encampments at night — and reverse the city’s gradual shift toward decriminalizing homelessness and liberalizing its policies.
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