SCOTUS Will Hear a Crucial Case That May Revolutionize How Cities Manage Homelessness

( – There’s no denying that homelessness remains a significant problem in the United States. More than half a million people had no place to live in 2022. The Supreme Court is now set to hear arguments in a major case about the issue.

In 2018, a lawsuit was filed against Grants Pass, Oregon, on behalf of homeless people in the city. The group argued against the city’s prohibition on the use of sleeping bags, other bedding, portable stoves, and camping in public spaces. The city doesn’t have a homeless shelter open to everyone, either.

Police are allowed to fine homeless people who are caught sleeping in public parks and other spaces. That has left some of them, including Helen Cruz, with thousands of dollars in fines. Cruz, who slept in parks close to the homes she cleaned, told NPR that her credit has been destroyed because Josephine County has reported her fines to collections after she failed to pay them.

Some of the homeless residents who couldn’t pay the fines were eventually thrown in jail.

In 2022, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a 2020 injunction against the city issued by US Magistrate Judge Mark Clarke. In a 2-1 decision, the appeals court agreed the ordinances against sleeping in public spaces violated the Eighth Amendment’s protections against cruel and unusual punishment because “there is no other place in the city for them to go.”

The city appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court, and the justices have agreed to hear the case, The City of Grants Pass v. Johnson. Republican-led states in the West, including Montana, Nebraska, and Idaho, have filed friend-of-the-court briefs in support of the city’s position. But it isn’t just conservatives supporting city officials. California Governor Gavin Newsom (D) and cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles support Grants Pass as well.

Arguments in the case are set for April 22. The decision will come at the end of the term, in spring or early summer.

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