US supreme court rules homeless people sleeping outside can be fined and jailed

In a significant decision on homelessness, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that cities can prohibit sleeping and camping in public places. In a 6-3 decision, the justices overturned lower court rulings that found it cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment to penalize individuals for sleeping outside if no alternative shelter was available.

Justice Gorsuch, writing for the majority, stated that homelessness is complex with many causes. He emphasized that federal judges lack the “special competence” to dictate city policies on this issue.

“The Eighth Amendment serves important functions, but it does not empower federal judges to dictate national homelessness policy,” he wrote.

In her dissent, Justice Sotomayor argued that the decision overlooks the needs of the most vulnerable, noting that sleep is essential and the ruling forces homeless individuals to choose between staying awake or facing arrest.

The decision favours the city of Grants Pass, Oregon, and other Western localities seeking greater enforcement powers amid rising homelessness. These cities argued that prior rulings hindered their ability to maintain public safety.

However, advocates for the homeless contend that the ruling could exacerbate the plight of the quarter-million people living on the streets, questioning where they can go if penalized for their situation.

Cities like Grants Pass argued that previous court decisions encouraged homeless encampments, posing public health and safety risks. While the rulings permitted cities to regulate encampments, they required offering adequate shelter first—a challenge where shelter beds are scarce. Cities also noted that many homeless individuals refuse available shelters due to restrictions like pet bans or substance prohibitions.

Featured Image: Nathan Dumlao/Unsplash.

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