Monday, December 16, 2019

Punished for Sleeping on the Streets, They Prevailed in Court. (NY Times)

St. Augustine, St. Augustine Beach and St. Johns County need to review their practices and procedures in light of this libertarian victory for homeless people in the United States Supreme Court:

Punished for Sleeping on the Streets, They Prevailed in Court 

The Supreme Court won’t consider a lower court decision that blocks cities from prosecuting people for sleeping outdoors when there is no shelter available. Meet the plaintiffs who launched the case in Boise, Idaho.
Credit...Jerome Pollos for The New York Times
SEATTLE — Being homeless was hard enough for Pamela Hawkes. Her pain was compounded when she found herself a frequent target of the police.
Ms. Hawkes had moved with a boyfriend to Boise, Idaho, from Spokane, Wash., looking for a fresh start after becoming homeless in 2005. Instead of finding a city where they could get their lives back on track, Ms. Hawkes said, she faced repeated jailings that caused her emotional and mental health to deteriorate.
The first time the police arrested her for sleeping outside, Ms. Hawkes said, she cried the whole night behind bars. Officers would go on to cite her on 11 more occasions in 2006 and 2007, including times when Ms. Hawkes said there was no available shelter space, forcing her onto the streets.
“Even though we did our best to stay hidden and out of view, we were still being found,” Ms. Hawkes said from Spokane, where she recently secured housing and learned this week that she would have a part-time job at a laundromat.

Ms. Hawkes, 36, is one of six plaintiffs in a closely watched lawsuit challenging local police enforcement against homeless camping. The case had been winding its way through the court system for a decade, until Monday, when the United States Supreme Court declined to hear it. 

That leaves in place the ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, which struck down the laws against homeless camping last year, saying the Constitution does not allow cities to prosecute people for sleeping outdoors if there is no shelter available.
The Supreme Court’s decision not to review the lower court’s ruling comes as cities in the West are grappling with a growing homelessness crisis that has left thousands of people who lack shelter to camp on sidewalks, around parks and in places hidden from public view.
In the lawsuit against the City of Boise, the plaintiffs contend that aggressive enforcement essentially made it illegal for them to sleep, because the city did not provide alternative shelter where they could stay. The city has countered that the federal court ruling in favor of the plaintiffs has essentially created a right to camp in public spaces that will do more harm than good. 
Other governments had backed Boise’s appeal to the Supreme Court, including states from Texas to Alaska and cities throughout California, among them Los Angeles and Sacramento.
For this group of plaintiffs, homelessness has been a long struggle. None anticipated that a battle over citations issued under overpasses and in the woods would reach the highest court in the country. 
The plaintiffs in the case have followed different paths in and out of homelessness:
Robert Martin could not stay in any of the shelters in Boise in 2009, his lawyers said, so he slept in the bushes near Interstate 84, near a shelter where his wife and son were sleeping. He was cited for camping. Mr. Martin is now living out of a vehicle in northern Idaho and working dishwashing jobs, according to Howard Belodoff, a lawyer who has worked on behalf of the plaintiffs.
Lawrence Lee Smith had become chronically homeless after a career in construction, at times living in a camper van or in shelters. Mr. Belodoff said that on one occasion, Mr. Smith lost the vehicle he had been sleeping in, along with his belongings. Mr. Belodoff said the last time the two spoke, Mr. Smith had qualified for Social Security benefits and found a place to live outside Boise.
Robert Anderson had been staying at the Boise Rescue Mission, but his lawyers said in court filings that he was forced to leave because of a rule at the shelter limiting how long he could remain without enrolling in religious programming. Mr. Belodoff said Mr. Anderson is still in Boise and still mostly homeless, but is currently staying with someone.
Basil E. Humphrey’s difficulties staying sober resulted in him being kicked out of a program at the Boise Rescue Mission, according to his lawyers. With no place to go, he began sleeping outside. Mr. Belodoff said the lawyers lost contact with Mr. Humphrey in recent years.
Janet F. Bell received repeated citations or threats from Boise police that prompted her to go outside the city limits and sleep in the bed of a pickup truck, according to filings by her lawyers. She has disability and mental health issues that have made it impossible for her to work, Mr. Belodoff said, but she now receives Social Security support and has qualified for city-supported housing in Boise.
Mr. Belodoff said he found it troubling to see some of the plaintiffs still struggling to secure housing, 10 years after the case began. He said most of them did not care to speak publicly about the case.
“They are just ordinary people who just found themselves in that situation and were willing to step forward,” he said.
Ms. Hawkes said she has been keeping track of the lawsuit through all its developments over the years.
“I’m just really proud that it has come this far,” Ms. Hawkes said. “It’s a topic that needs to be discussed more in depth.”

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