Issues to Watch

Arrested for being Homeless: Anomaly or Reality?

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Arrested for being Homeless: Anomaly or Reality?

Tiffany Ashton*

Being homeless in America means consistently worrying about finding safe and legal shelter for the night.  Statement of Interest of the United States at 2, Bell v. City of Boise, 993 F. Supp. 2d 1237, No. 1:09-cv-540-REB (D. Idaho 2014).  In 2014, “over 42% of homeless individuals slept in unsheltered, public locations—under bridges, in cars, in parks, on sidewalks, or in abandoned buildings.”  Id. at 2.  While these places may be unsafe and may put the homeless at a higher risk of being involved in crime, those individuals are also putting themselves legally at risk of arrest.  Id. at 3 (citing Jones v. City of Los Angeles, 444 F.3d 1118 (9th Cir. 2006) (vacated after settlement, 505 F.3d 1006 (9th Cir. 2007))).  Cities have begun to enact ordinances that make it illegal for individuals to sleep outside.  Id. at 9 (citing Jones, 444 F.3d 1118; Johnson v. City of Dallas, 860 F. Supp. 344, 350 (N.D. Tex. 1994); Pottinger v. City of Miami, 810 F. Supp. 1551, 1563 (S.D. Fla. 1992)).  Compliance with the cities’ ordinances is increasingly difficult for a homeless person turned away from multiple shelters for lack of space on any given night.  Id. at 12.  In a recent case, Bell v. City of Boise, 993 F. Supp. 2d 1237 (D. Idaho 2014), homeless plaintiffs in Idaho are challenging the city’s anti-camping and disorderly conduct ordinances as cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eight Amendment. (more…)