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US Supreme Court hears a case with ties back to Boise and its homeless population

Grants Pass V. Johnson was heard on Monday, they will rule on how cities can police homeless people sleeping outdoors. The case has ties back to Martin V. Boise.
Posted at 6:00 PM, Apr 22, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-22 20:00:58-04

BOISE, Idaho — The US Supreme Court heard Grants Pass v. Johnson on Monday. The case will look at the question of how cities can police homeless people sleeping outside when there is no space in city shelters. The case, out of Oregon, has connections to the Martin v. Boise case which tackled the same issue.

  • Idaho News 6 spoke to Attorney Howard A. Belodoff, who represented Martin in the case. He says this case is important, but might not have a big impact in Boise, because the city reached a settlement that required them to change some ordinances in the way they police homelessness.
  • The City of Boise declined the Idaho News 6 interview request, saying they couldn't comment on ongoing litigation.

(The following is a transcription of the full broadcast story.)

On Monday, the US Supreme Court heard arguments for Grants Pass v. Johnson, a case from Oregon that says cities can't forbid unauthorized sleeping or camping in public when there is no room in a city's shelter.

The Ninth Circuit ruled in favor of Johnson in that case and used a lawsuit from Boise in its reasoning.

Some may remember Martin v. Boise, a similar case that was ruled on in 2018.

So I went to go see the man who won that case, attorney Howard A. Belodoff. He says the case is about homelessness being a status.

He argued Boise was punishing homeless people based on their status for something they needed to do, and that it was unconstitutional.

"If you don't have a shelter or a place to go, you have to sleep somewhere," Belodoff said.

So after the Ninth Circuit ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in 2018, the city decided to settle.

"We came back and we reached an agreement with the city to modify their ordinance and do a few other things so people wouldn't unnecessarily be cited if they didn't have another place to sleep," Belodoff said.

But now the Supreme Court will decide if cities can police those sleeping outside, regardless of shelter space.

So could that impact Boise?

Belodoff says no.

"Well we have a settlement agreement and it's not dependent on a court order," Belodoff said.

He also says, the administration in city hall right now has done things to address the situation.

"They have an affordable housing program to build affordable units. A lot more needs to be done but that's the answer and that wasn't happening under the prior administration," Belodoff said.