Boise Decision: Can California Cities Move Homeless Camps?

After Sacramento cleared a highly visible homeless encampment at the corner of Fair Oaks Boulevard and Howe Avenue on Monday, activists argued the legality of the sweep, citing a 2018 federal appeals court ruling.

The decision, known as Martin v. Boise, has prevented the city in the past from sweeping up homeless camps on public lands without providing shelter for individuals.

Boise’s decision had ripple effects on the West Coast, including Sacramento County, which has more than 5,500 homeless people, according to the 2019 point-in-time count. The 2022 count was in February and will be released later this year.

California cities have struggled to manage homelessness since the 2018 ruling, with many local governments attempting to relocate camps under the ruling’s guidelines, which require individuals to be provided with adequate shelter. For example, last summer Venice Beach officials cleared tents of homeless people from the city’s boardwalk and relocated homeless people to temporary housing.

What exactly is Martin vs. Boise and what does he do?

What was the precedent for the decision?

A group of homeless people living in Boise, Idaho, sued the city in 2009 over an ordinance banning sleeping in public places.

In 2014, the city of Boise changed this rule and prevented homeless people from being punished for sleeping outside when shelters were full. However, the problem persisted even when beds were available due to shelter-imposed limits on how long people could stay as well as certain religious requirements.

Judges at the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal in 2018 intervened and said cities cannot punish homeless people sleeping in outdoor public spaces “when those people do not have a home or other shelter where go”, according to the opinion.

The panel, which ultimately sided with the group of six homeless people, reached consensus that the order violated the Eighth Amendment to the US Constitution banning cruel and unusual punishment.

The 9th Circuit is considered the largest court of appeals, with jurisdiction covering nine states and two territories across the western United States as well as Hawaii and Alaska. It is headquartered in San Francisco.

In February 2021, Boise reached a historic settlement in the case and updated the orders to protect the rights of those unable to access shelter due to “disability, sexual orientation or religious practices.” This is to ensure that homeless people do not receive citations when shelter is not available to them.

The city also said it would invest more than $1 billion in preventing homelessness and creating or rehabilitating overnight shelter spaces.

What prevents it?

In short, the ruling prevents local governments from citing people camping in tents or otherwise on city-owned property when no shelter is available.

Beyond this restriction, the ruling is open to interpretation and does not fully prevent cities from criminalizing people who sleep outdoors. Under the ruling, cities are allowed to remove homeless camps near “critical infrastructure” such as levees, according to the Sacramento Frequently Asked Questions page.

“Once a concern or complaint has been received through 311, the City will determine whether, under the above-mentioned law, action may be taken and by whom,” the city’s website states.

A 2019 amicus curiae, or “friend of the court” brief submitted to the US Supreme Court argued that the Boise decision was “ill-defined and unworkable” and “created more questions than answers. “.

The 36-page document, compiled by the California State Association of Counties and 33 local governments, also raised concerns about what constitutes an available refuge bed.

The Supreme Court dismissed the case and the 2018 decision stands.

According to a 2019 Bee Report, after the Boise decision, the city and county stopped citing homeless people for illegal camping on public property unless police could find them an open shelter bed, their offer transportation and the person has rejected the offer.

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This story was originally published April 12, 2022 2:22 p.m.

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