(The Center Square) – California Governor Gavin Newsom submitted an amicus brief supporting United States Supreme Court review of a 2018 Ninth Circuit Court ruling in Martin v. Boise that local courts in nine states and several United States territories in the Pacific Ocean have often used to prevent the adoption of anti-encampment policies.
The Ninth Circuit Court ruling found that cities are unable to enforce anti-camping ordinances if they do not have shelter beds available for their homeless population, a ruling that other courts have used to create more stringent standards for conditions that must be first met for encampments of unsheltered individuals to be cleared.
The governor’s brief cites how Martin v. Boise was used in Los Angeles court ruling that “only if shelters meet a long list of requirements-from nursing staff, to testing for communicable diseases, to on-site security may the City enforce common-sense anti-camping laws,” and a Santa Barbara ruling blocking a “a geographically and time-limited ban against sleeping only in the downtown area.”
“As California invests billions to address housing and homelessness, the courts have tied the hands of state and local governments that seek to use common sense approaches to clean our streets and provide help for unhoused Californians living in inhumane conditions,” Newsom said in a public statement. “While I agree with the basic principle that a city shouldn’t criminalize homeless individuals for sleeping outside when they have nowhere else to go within that city’s boundaries, courts continue to reach well beyond that narrow limit to block any number of reasonable efforts to protect homeless individuals and the broader public from the harms of uncontrolled encampments.”
Martin v. Boise currently applies to Alaska, Arizona, California, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, the Northern Mariana Islands, Oregon and Washington. While the ruling explicitly stated, “[e]ven where shelter is unavailable, an ordinance prohibiting sitting, lying, or sleeping outside at particular times or in particular locations might well be constitutionally permissible.”
The governor’s brief argues that while it agrees with the Martin v. Boise ruling, local courts’ use of the ruling to block policies limiting anti-camping and anti-encampment policies requires that the Supreme Court review and clarify Martin v. Boise, claiming that “Misinterpretations of Martin – as now reaffirmed by the Ninth Circuit in the decision below – are affirmatively harming” efforts to address homelessness.
The governor is requesting United States Supreme Court review of Gloria Johnson, et al v. City of Grants Pass in which the Ninth Circuit Court ruled Grants Pass could not enforce its anti-camping ordinances relating to how one can camp on public property.
“The amended ordinance continues to prohibit homeless persons from using ‘bedding, sleeping bag, or other material used for bedding purposes,’ or using stoves, lighting fires, or erecting structures of any kind,” the majority in the three judge panel wrote. “The City claims homeless persons are free to sleep in City parks, but only without items necessary to facilitate sleeping outdoors.”
Writing in dissent, Judge Daniel Collins said, “The net result, for class certification purposes, is that any issue of individualized involuntariness is set aside and Martin is thereby reduced to a simplistic formula — to be resolved on a classwide basis—into whether the number of homeless persons in the jurisdiction exceeds the number of available shelter beds.”
Despite heavy investments in shelter capacity, many municipalities still do not have enough shelter space to accommodate every homeless individual in their jurisdiction. However, even in these cities, shelters nonetheless face shelter occupancy rates well below their contracted figures. A 2017 analysis by the county-wide Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority found that half of the reviewed shelters in Los Angeles’ shelters were not filling their beds, and that shelters run by LAHSA had a system-wide average 78% utilization rate, well short of the 90% required in their contracts. With LAHSA 2017 data finding the county had 16,623 shelter beds and 40,082 unsheltered homeless individuals, that means the city had a rough average of 3,657 shelter beds on a given night.
In 2022, the most recent year for which data is available, LAHSA reported 25,263 beds and 69,144 homeless individuals, suggesting utilization at a similar rate would suggest an additional approximately 5,558 individuals could have secured placement at an available shelter.