A divided Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to support an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court of a ruling that prevents local governments from enforcing laws against camping on sidewalks or in other public places unless sufficient alternative shelter space is available.
The board voted 3-2 to file a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the appeal being pursued by the city of Boise, Idaho. The city has petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to review the ruling by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in a case dubbed Martin v. Boise.
"The reality is, it has tied our hands in the county and made it more difficult for us to serve our homeless neighbors,'' said Supervisor Kathryn
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Barger, who co-sponsored the motion with Supervisor Janice Hahn in support of filing the court brief.
Barger said the ruling "places an unworkable burden on this county,'' noting that it would take decades to build enough alternative shelter space for the nearly 60,000 homeless people in the county.
In their motion, Barger and Hahn wrote that local governments "need to have the ability to regulate public camping to protect everyone, especially the most vulnerable and in need.''
"Unregulated encampments can create a public health crisis to those inside and outside those encampments,'' according to the motion. "The county has already seen the spread of communicable diseases in public areas, with recent outbreaks of medieval-era illnesses such as typhus and tuberculosis. ... Anti-camping laws should exist to protect everyone equally. Without the ability to enforce such laws, homeless individuals living in encampments are vulnerable to becoming victims of crime.''
Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis dissented. Kuehl said it "would be a mistake'' to put the issue in the hands of "a terrible United States Supreme Court'' that might issue an even more onerous ruling. Solis said supporting an appeal of the ruling is akin to supporting the criminalization of homelessness.
"Individuals experiencing homelessness can't be criminalized for sitting, lying or sleeping on public property when there is insufficient housing or shelter,'' Solis said. "The fact is that we don't have enough shelters.
"... I don't think this is going to solve the problem, and I don't think I want to be part of that group that will criminalize people for sleeping on the street,'' she said.
More than six dozen people spoke out on the issue during the board meeting, many of them pleading with the board not to support the appeal. Many said the homeless should not be subjected to citations or prosecution when they have no other alternatives for housing.
David Busch of the Services Not Sweeps Coalition issued a statement accusing the board of "working hand-in-glove with (President) Donald Trump'' in a push "to remove the fundamental 8th Amendment constitutional rights they (the homeless) must rely on to protect themselves.''
Eric Tars, an attorney who represented the plaintiffs in the original lawsuit against the city of Boise, said recently the 9th Circuit ruling does not handcuff local governments in their dealings with the homeless.
"The simple fact is that every human being needs a safe, legal place to sleep,'' Tars told the Idaho Statesman. "Far from crippling cities, the 9th Circuit's decision recognizes this truth and leaves cities a wide range of constructive ways of addressing homelessness which are more effective, and cost-effective, than continuing to lock people up or give them fines for simply needing to sleep safely at night.''