DOJ Opposes Criminalizing Homelessness By Banning Camping


The U.S. Justice Department has urged a judge to block enforcement of an anti-camping ordinance in Boise, Idaho, reports the Los Angeles Times. The filing yesterday was in a lawsuit by seven homeless people convicted of violating a Boise ordinance against sleeping or camping in outdoor public spaces. The city said the camps were unsafe and unsanitary. “If a person literally has nowhere else to go, then enforcement of the anti-camping ordinance against that person criminalizes her for being homeless, ” DOJ said. “Needlessly pushing homeless individuals into the criminal justice system does nothing to break the cycle of poverty or prevent homelessness in the future,” said Deputy Assistant Attorney Geneeral Vanita Gupta.

The outcome in Boise could reverberate in Los Angeles, where officials are considering resuming enforcement of the city’s own anti-camping ordinance, considered among the nation’s strictest. It bans sleeping, sitting or lying on sidewalks and other public property. In 2006, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit struck down the ordinance, finding that banning sleeping in public by people who have nowhere else to go violated the 8th Amendment provision barring cruel and unusual punishment. L.A.’s homeless population has grown to 26,000 people as of January, a 12 percent rise in two years. Countywide, the number of people sleeping in outdoor encampments or vehicles jumped 85 prcent in the same period.

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