Supreme Court Rules Arrests and Fines for Homeless People

The US Supreme Court’s recent decision in City of Grants Pass v. Johnson allows for the fining and arresting of homeless individuals living on streets, sidewalks, vehicles, or within city parks. This ruling may have detrimental health consequences for the homeless population and their communities, particularly if no alternative shelter or housing options are available. The decision was criticized by Ed Johnson, director of litigation at the Oregon Law Center, who believes it will lead to increased criminalization and potentially fatal outcomes for homeless individuals who have no other option but to sleep outside.

The most significant legal battle over homelessness in decades took place in Grants Pass, Oregon, where homeless individuals living outdoors or illegally camping on public property were fined and arrested. The majority of justices in the Supreme Court, led by Neil Gorsuch, stated that such measures were not considered cruel and unusual punishment. Gorsuch argued that addressing the complex causes of homelessness is the responsibility of the American people, not the court.

Sonia Sotomayor, a dissenting justice, believed the decision focused more on the needs of local governments and left the homeless with an impossible choice: either remain awake or be arrested.

Local officials have expressed concern about the negative health effects of street life, urging the relocation of homeless individuals for health and safety reasons. Some argue that if assistance is not accepted, there should be consequences, such as requiring mental health and addiction treatment.

The ruling may prompt cities to clear encampments more aggressively, potentially causing homeless individuals to become more transient and increasing their vulnerability to communicable diseases. Health care experts worry that this constant relocation could exacerbate health issues, especially among individuals with chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease, and make treatment more costly.

The Biden administration has been advocating for expanding health care to include housing, with states such as California investing billions to help homeless patients find and afford housing. However, the Supreme Court decision may interrupt these initiatives, potentially leading to lost connections between homeless individuals and essential support services.

Frustration over the spread of encampments into neighborhoods and public spaces has led to the ruling being welcomed by local leaders across California, particularly as it allows them to take action against homeless individuals. The Supreme Court’s decision, however, has been criticized for worsening homelessness and undermining efforts to provide essential housing and healthcare support.

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