Supreme Court rules cities can ban homeless encampments, Idaho officials react

California Governor-Homelessness
Posted at 9:25 AM, Jun 28, 2024

The Supreme Court ruled on Friday that cities can penalize the homeless for sleeping outdoors, by upholding a law banning homeless encampments.

The 6-3 decision stemmed from the case of Grants Pass v. G. Johnson, after the Oregon town of Grants Pass started fining people nearly $300 for sleeping outside. If not paid, that fine would increase to $537.60, and multiple citations could expose the individual to criminal trespass charges — which could lead to a heftier fine and jail time.

"The enforcement of generally applicable laws regulating camping on public property does not constitute 'cruel and unusual punishment' prohibited by the Eighth Amendment," the Supreme Court said in its decision.

The city had previously argued it relied on "camping laws" — which bar the use of blankets, pillows or cardboard boxes for protection — to protect its community.

But a lower court had ruled against the town, saying it was cruel and unusual punishment since it didn't have enough shelter beds to house the individuals.

“I was proud to lead the 23 supporting amicus states for this case,” said Idaho Attorney General Raúl Labrador. “I’m very pleased the Supreme Court has concurred with our arguments. We have all witnessed the impacts to public streets and spaces in once-beautiful cities like Portland, San Francisco, and Seattle. Homeless camping has destroyed the vitality of these cities, fueled by the enabling policies of legalized drugs and de-prioritized mental health resources. Residents sidestep used needles, garbage, and human waste in their public spaces as they go to work every single day. This SCOTUS decision is at the heart of preserving safety and livability in cities everywhere.”

“I am committed to making Boise a safe and welcoming city for everyone. That means keeping our families safe, our neighborhoods safe, and treating everyone with compassion and respect, said Boise Mayor Lauren McLean. "The Supreme Court’s decision in Johnson v Grants Pass will not change our approach. We will continue to invest in permanent supportive housing at New Path, the Park Apartments, Fire Station 5, and in scattered sites around the city, providing case management and supportive services like health care, mental health counseling, and substance use disorder treatment that people need to become healthy, self-sufficient, and permanently housed. It’s a proven model that provides a real path into the future for our most vulnerable residents. In a city for everyone, everyone is valuable, and we don’t give up on people.”

The high court's ruling essentially rejects arguments that banning homeless encampments went against the Constitution.

The case is the most significant to come before the Supreme Court in decades on this issue, and also comes at as a time when there's a rising number of people in the U.S. without a permanent place to live.

Last year, the total number of people experiencing homelessness increased by 12%, according to a report by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Chief Justice John Roberts said the Supreme Court will issue its last opinions of the term on Monday.