Boise will settle controversial homeless camping lawsuit, change city code

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Posted at 2:24 PM, Feb 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-09 10:08:37-05

This article was originally published by Hayley Harding in the Idaho Statesman.

The city of Boise will settle Martin v. Boise, the “camping lawsuit” that came from city enforcement of an ordinance that banned people who are homeless from sleeping in public.

Under the agreement, the city will not cite or arrest people when no shelter is available, the city said Monday in a news release. The city will also amend ordinances that guide police citations for public sleeping, and the Boise Police Department will undertake additional training to make sure people who are homeless aren’t cited when no shelter is available.

The lawsuit was focused on a Boise ordinance, first adopted in 1922, that banned people from sleeping in public places. The original lawsuit was filed in 2009 on behalf of Robert Martin and five other people who were then homeless or had been recently, and who had been cited for violating the ordinance between 2007 and 2009.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in September 2018 that citiescannot prosecute people for sleeping on the streets if there is nowhere else for them to go, saying that violates the Eighth Amendment and amounts to unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment. The city later asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take up its appeal, but the court declined to hear it.

The 9th Circuit is the largest court of appeals, meaning that its ruling directly affected not only Boise and all of Idaho, but also California, Oregon, Washington, Montana, Nevada, Arizona, Alaska and Hawaii. The decision was considered a victory by advocates for people who are homeless, but cities across the 9th Circuit have struggled to work within the ruling.

“I am so happy and proud to see everyone’s hard work finally come together in such a way that will help so many people,” Pamela Hawkes Duke, one of the plaintiffs experiencing homelessness in Boise, said in the news release. “I am really looking forward to seeing what other cities come up with as time goes on, especially when the city of Boise will have laid down the foundation for what it could look like.”

The agreement is “a road map” to the dismissal of the remaining claims made against Boise, according to the release.

Eric Tars, legal director at the National Homelessness Law Center and a member of the legal team representing the plaintiffs, said in the release that the settlement is “a win for all residents of Boise” and “serves as a national model for how other communities should be implementing the decision.

“By getting homeless individuals off the streets and into housing or shelter, there will be no need to enforce any ordinances against them — housing, not handcuffs, is what ends homelessness,” Tars said.

Boise will invest $1,335,000 in preventing homelessness, according to the release, at least a third of which will go toward rehabilitating older overnight shelter space or creating new space.