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Federal Court Upholds Constitutional Rights for Homeless People

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The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently found that it is a violation of the most basic civil and human rights to punish a person for involuntary acts caused by homelessness. The court approved an injunction to prevent Los Angeles from enforcing one such law during certain times.

This decision stands for the basic principle that it is inhumane to punish a person for being homeless.

Six homeless people stood up to LA and demanded the right not to be criminalized for the simple fact of being homeless. Finally, a federal court has heard that demand for justice.

We hope that this decision will signal the end of an era of criminalization of people who are homeless and the start of the era of real solutions like affordable housing, health care, child care, jobs, and education.

By refusing to allow someone to be punished for harmless acts which are unavoidable results of homelessness, the courts validates what homeless people and advocates have been saying all along: that the solution to homelessness depends on effective and humane social services rather than punitive measures and billy clubs.

The Ninth Circuit’s decision is one if the most important civil rights rulings of our time. Laws that unfairly target homeless people cannot be considered constitutional.

The Big Picture

In the last thirty years dramatic cuts to the social safety net and the eradication of housing and assistance programs for low income people has created the unprecedented rise in the number of people and families forced to live on the streets of Los Angeles and cities around the country.

Cities like LA (as well as San Francisco) have resorted to law enforcement based approaches instead of real solutions to deal with the growing crisis of homelessness. Cities all over the country have passed criminal laws that target homeless residents for engaging in the most basic life sustaining acts.

The LA law was one of the most vicious anti-homeless laws in the country that made it a crime to sit, lie, or sleep on a public street or sidewalk anywhere in the city under threat of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. People all over the country are faced with similar laws that prevent the most basic and essential human activities under threat of criminal sanctions.

The court found that on any given night 80,000 are homeless in LA county, while there only 30,000 beds available in shelters or other programs. The average rent for the most meager hotel there is $379 a month, but the local public assistance grant is only $221 per month. This situation is not unique to LA, similar figures and percentages make up the desperate picture of lack of alternatives to homelessness countrywide.

In San Francisco, the city’s official homeless count numbers over 5000 homeless people on any given night, whereas there are less than 2000 shelter beds available.

This could have a major impact on San Francisco’s homeless policy in light of the fact that we have seen a marked increase in numbers of citations for homeless people sleeping in our parks and alleyways and on our sidewalks.

At this writing the decision has been appealed by the City of Los Angeles. Look to future STREET SHEETs to see how this landmark finding unfolds, and how it will impact the lives of homeless people across the West Coast.

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Author: Street Sheet Editor

The STREET SHEET is the oldest continuously published street news paper in the United States. Organizationally, it is the public education and outreach tool of the Coalition on Homelessness. Every month, the STREET SHEET reaches 32,000 readers through over 200 homeless or low-income vendors. Our vendors are charged nothing for the papers they receive, and keep all money they earn through STREET SHEET distribution.

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