The Supreme Court decision Monday not to review a lower court’s ruling allowing the homeless to sleep on streets without punishment left Los Angeles County supervisors disappointed and city officials saying the ruling doesn’t directly impact their efforts to help the local homeless.
On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court denied a petition by the city of Boise, Idaho, to review the case of Martin v. Boise, defaulting to earlier rulings by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that homeless people cannot be punished for sleeping outside on public property.
The Martin decision forbids municipalities from enforcing “common sense ordinances” that prohibit public camping unless those local governments can offer acceptable shelter to every unhoused person in the jurisdiction, Supervisors Kathryn Barger and Janice Hahn said in a motion filed two months ago.
“In September, the Board of Supervisors voted in support of my motion co-authored with Supervisor Janice Hahn to file an amicus brief for the United States Supreme Court to review the Boise v. Martin ruling and provide greater clarity on how local governments should interpret these laws,” Barger wrote in a statement released Monday.
“Today’s decision by the Supreme Court to not review the Boise ruling by the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals is disappointing,” she stated.
“A review by the Supreme Court providing clarity to the Boise ruling could have added one more tool in our set of strategies to combat this humanitarian crisis,” she added. “Nonetheless, we continue to move forward with a sense of urgency. This includes my recent housing initiative that calls for a private sector expert to help the county develop short- and long-term supportive housing solutions in partnership with local cities.”
City of Santa Clarita officials, meanwhile, say the court’s decision doesn’t immediately impact the city’s efforts to address homelessness, as explained in a written statement released by Jerrid McKenna, assistant to the city manager.
“Today’s action from the Supreme Court does not impact how the city addresses homelessness in our community,” he said.
“We currently do not enforce Title 14 in the city’s municipal code,” he said. “We focus our efforts on outreach and letting those experiencing homelessness know what local shelter, resources and programs are available.”
“We have also taken great strides in the past year to increase local service capacity. Under the City Council’s leadership, in partnership with the county, we created a Homeless Task Force in October 2018, which works to complete action items within the Community Plan to Address Homelessness,” McKenna said.
As part of this effort, he noted, in April 2019, Bridge to Home shifted from being an overnight winter shelter to a 24/7 operation with plans for an enhanced permanent facility.
Barger cited the example set by the city of Bellflower as a “good example of how a community can work to solve this issue at the local level. Bellflower has committed to building sufficient homeless housing and entered into a settlement agreement with a nonprofit agency in Orange County that will allow them to serve their own residents first and foremost.
“Our support of the Boise review was about balancing the needs of those on the street with the public health and safety concerns of all residents throughout Los Angeles County,” she said.
“Despite today’s decision, Los Angeles County will continue to combat homelessness, exploring every available option,” she added.
The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority reports that approximately 44,214 individuals experiencing homelessness are unsheltered. Some estimates indicate that for every 133 people leaving homelessness in the county, another 150 become homeless.
The average life expectancy for individuals experiencing homelessness in the county is 48 for women and 51 for men, compared with California’s average life expectancy of 83 years for women and 79 years for men. Last year, 918 individuals experiencing homelessness died across the county.
This year, nearly three homeless persons die each day. As of early September, 698 homeless people have died, Barger and Hahn said in their motion.
The Martin ruling, according to the arguments put forward by Barger and Hahn in September, places an enormous burden on the county. Local governments, they argued, 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, county officials say. Los Angeles County has already reported the spread of communicable diseases in public areas, with recent outbreaks of medieval-era illnesses such as typhus and tuberculosis.
On Twitter: @jamesarthurholt