No Shoes, No Shirt, No Home? Still Room For You In West Coast Cities

seal of the ninth judicial circuit

The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit continues to influence U.S. West Coast communities with growing populations of people who are homeless. Unlike other judicial circuits, the Ninth Circuit continues to maintain an activist approach to the rights of the unhoused. It reins in communities that overreach as they attempt to rid themselves of people who are homeless. In this regard the Ninth Circuit reflects objectives of the United Nations that recognize a human right to housing.

The court continues to frame its actions based on a belief that a homeless individual or family have a right to shelter SOMEWHERE. A community may legally relocate those people somewhere else, but ONLY if they can offer individual or family experiencing homelessness an acceptable alternative form of shelter.

The court’s reasoning protects individuals in a ‘tent city’ — or even those occupying a small, individual patch of city parkland — from being ‘swept’ away. By contrast, in many communities in North America and around the world, legal authority permits a “not our problem” stance when removing people from public property. Courts endorse public authority rights to remove, or ‘sweep’ people who are homeless away, without being responsible for their on-going welfare..

This is not the case in Ninth Circuit, which defines legal authority in a sweep of states down the U.S. west coast and also includes Alaska and Idaho. With by far the greatest population of people who are homeless in these states, there has been ever-increasing pressure to address the problem, with the Ninth Circuit perceived as a road block to action.

Recently, the Ninth Circuit has refined its attitude to the rights of people who are homeless and staying on public property. Civic authority to control citizen health and safety has been broadened. Long-suffering municipalities have been hoping to use the court’s legal refinements to take better control of their responsibilities.

And indeed, it’s now clear that they have achieved authority to tackle some aspects of spontaneous homeless communities on municipal properties. One such example is a newfound authority to clear encampments that are unsafe.

But where it comes to the rights of citizens to occupy public property when they have no other place to go, the Ninth Circuit has recently clarified that there has been no change in to the limitations of municipal authority. Jurisdictions cannot foist the responsibility of finding alternatives and adequate shelter space on to people who are homeless. Jurisdictions must offer actual, existing and availabale shelter accommodation as an alternative. Lack of such an actual offer will continue to protect the homeless from being ‘swept’ away. However, turning down an explicit offer of an appropriate shelter bed will be sufficient grounds to clear (a) person(s) who are homeless from otherwise unauthorized use of city property.

Read more at KTVU FOX2: San Francisco can enforce laws on homeless who refuse shelter services