With homelessness on the rise, Supreme Court to weigh bans on sleeping outdoors

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court will consider Monday whether banning homeless people from sleeping outside if there is no shelter amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

The case is considered the most important to come before the Supreme Court in decades on homelessness, which is reaching record levels in the United States.

In California and other Western states, courts have ruled that it is unconstitutional to fine and arrest people sleeping in homeless encampments if there is no shelter space.

A cross-section of Democratic and Republican officials say this makes it difficult for them to manage camps, which can have dangerous and unsanitary living conditions.

But hundreds of advocacy groups argue that allowing cities to punish people who need a place to sleep would criminalize homelessness and ultimately worsen the crisis.

The Ministry of Justice has also made efforts. They argue that people should not be punished just for sleeping outside, but only if they are determined that they really have nowhere else to go.

The case comes from the rural town of Grants Pass, Oregon, which began fining people $295 for sleeping outdoors to manage homeless encampments that sprang up in the city’s public parks as the cost of housing escalated.

The measure was largely rejected by the San Francisco-based 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which also ruled in 2018 that such bans violated the 8th Amendment by punishing people for something they have no control over.

The case comes as homelessness in the United States grew by a dramatic 12%, to the highest reported level, as rising rents and a decline in aid from the coronavirus pandemic combined to put housing out of reach for more Americans , according to federal data.