County may join fight to reverse ban on homeless encampment enforcement 

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The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors may join a list of cities and counties that are seeking to reverse a court decision that prohibits authorities from removing homeless people from public spaces. 

The motion, co-authored by Supervisors Kathryn Barger, 5th District, and Janice Hahn, 4th District, was placed on the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting. Barger represents the Santa Clarita Valley. 

The motion comes after the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, based in San Francisco, ruled in 2022 in Johnson v. City of Grants Pass that homeless people living in encampments on public property cannot be punished with “civil fines, an exclusion order, and eventual criminal prosecution for trespass,” according to the motion.

The ruling states that any actions against homeless people who have “no other option but to sleep outside or in their vehicles” would go against the cruel and unusual punishment clause of the Eighth Amendment. 

The motion details how the Ninth Circuit used a previous decision in Martin v. City of Boise from 2018 to expand on the ruling that “the Eighth Amendment prohibits the imposition of criminal penalties for sitting, sleeping, or lying outside on public property for homeless individuals who cannot obtain shelter.” 

The city of Grants Pass filed a petition in August with the United States Supreme Court seeking to overturn that ruling. The Supreme Court agreed on Jan. 12 to review the case after multiple cities, counties and other organizations filed amicus briefs — court submissions by people, organizations or agencies that are not party to a case that offer additional information or arguments — including California Gov. Gavin Newsom on behalf of the state. 

In total, 25 amicus briefs were submitted to the Supreme Court in support of the city of Grants Pass. 

“The Johnson and Martin cases limit the range of homeless policy tools available to the county as well as other local jurisdictions as it pertains to homeless encampments and public spaces,” the motion reads, “and unless the United States Supreme Court overturns the Johnson decision, it remains law.” 

In a statement sent to The Signal, Barger said that this motion is another step toward the county being able to help homeless people through local control. 

“I filed this motion to give our board an opportunity to show their support of the legal changes we need from the courts to effectively help those living on our streets in encampments,” Barger said in the statement. “Our state has also gone on the record, signaling their support of the city of Grants Pass. Our county should align itself with those efforts. Outreach, services, housing options, and enforcement must all be components of our broader strategy to resolve homelessness.” 

Los Angeles County had more than 75,500 homeless people on any given night in 2023, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s point-in-time count that was done in January 2023. Those numbers were released in June.  

According to LAHSA, of those homeless people, 70% did not have any shelter. 

The results of this year’s count, conducted last month, have not been released. 

L.A. County proclaimed homelessness as a local emergency in January 2023, which, according to the motion, “provided additional tools such as expedited and streamlined processes for contracting and procurement, hiring, housing, services, spending, communication and outreach, and public outreach and education to combat homelessness.” 

“In addition to the existing tools, the county and local governments need to have the ability to regulate public camping to protect everyone, especially those most vulnerable and in need,” the motion reads. “Unregulated encampments can create a public health crisis and raise safety concerns to those inside and outside those encampments.” 

Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting is scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. at the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration in downtown Los Angeles. The meeting can be viewed live via the board’s YouTube channel at tinyurl.com/3snv87at. 

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