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A jurisdiction will not be required to give homeless the keys to their city
Correct Dennis Wyatt mug 2022
Dennis Wyatt

It was called City of Grants Pass v. Johnson et al.

And now that the United States Supreme Court has ruled, it should be called the “Save the Cities” decision.

It’s because the recent court ruling gives cities a much clearer path forward to avoid the safety net that is being extended to the homeless from strangling communities.

The bottom line is communities now have leverage to pressure the homeless to accept help. As such, it negated a 2018 appeals court decision that cities could not punish people who lack shelter for either sleeping in parks or other public places.

The exception, of course, was the promise that if a city had a shelter bed that was available and a homeless individual refused to use it pressure could be applied that would be prevent them from simply “camping” anywhere they pleased.

The ruling prompted the usual cry and hue — or demands — from both extreme sides of the issue.

On one side were the hard left activists who said the court essentially made it illegal to be homeless.

On the other were hard right activists who are now demanding police start ticketing the heck out of the homeless and/or run them out of town.

Had the court not ruled as it did, cities would eventually have been forced into a position where they were on the wrong side of the law for nudging the homeless from camping in parks and such and into programs aimed at giving them the ability to shelter themselves.

Cities, based on the Boise, Idaho decision and settlement of a class action suit with three men who were homeless, made reasonable carve-outs for the homeless to sleep.

They carved out a limited number of “reasonable exceptions” to banning the homeless from sleeping in specific public property.  That still allows the homeless to sleep on a number of other city property.

The appeals court decision involving Grants Pass, which does not provide a homeless shelter, also handcuffed efforts by cities that are taking steps to help the homeless.

If the appeals decision had stood, a city could not force a homeless individual to take an open bed at a shelter if they decided they wanted to continue camping on public property.

The ruling made it clear the homeless do not have sacred cow status. Nor did it declare open season on the homeless.

It did make the course that cities working to remove roadblocks that are keeping homeless on the streets to ultimately use legal means to pressure the homeless who refuse — for want of a better term — to get with the game.

Cities working on a solution to help the homeless now have a way to pressure homeless who prefer the streets because they don’t want to follow rules or wish to get high when they please.

And even though cities have — or are — pursuing homeless solutions they need to have the ability to pressure homeless to go to a shelter when there is a bed available to make it work.

The course of action is rooted in the 9th District position that a previous Supreme Court declined a petition to consider appealing.

The Supreme Court restores the critical tool of being able to “force” a homeless person to take a bed when police indicate one is available.

Only an idiot would abandon efforts to address the homeless problem and instead replace it with citations and even revolving door arrests if the homeless don’t follow anti-camping laws. That’s because it doesn’t work.

Some may tire of it and move on, but most won’t. They’ve got to exist someplace and a basic human right is the ability to do the functions needed to sustain life which includes sleeping and doing the No. 1 and No. 2.

And since the act of homelessness is still not a crime, the homeless can’t be jailed for essentially being homeless.

It is against that backdrop many homeless have refused shelter for a variety of reasons.

The court ruling no longer confers carte blanche sacred cow status on the homeless.

Nor does if allow cities to declare open season on the homeless.

What it does is allow the creation of a middle ground that cities can have a high degree of confidence if they put in place workable solutions, the homeless aren’t conferred special projected status.

That status is the absolute ability to spurn all avenues offered to get them off the street and not face repercussions.

If the homeless don’t like the safety net they are being extended, the court has said the homeless can’t do the equivalent of sticking their middle finger in the proverbial face of the city.

There will be consequences for their actions.

If they don’t like an offer of shelter, they don’t have the right to sleep where they want.

A lot of time and money is being spent in a bid to improve the lot of the homeless, and by extension the communities where they impose not just quality of life problems for the residents but also situations that deteriorate public health and safety.

Mayors need to stay the course.

To give into society’s worst instincts or roll over and give the homeless the keys to the city will not solve the problem.

—  This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Courier or 209 Multimedia. He may be reached at