9th Circuit Court States Criminalizing Homeless Is Unconstitutional

Federal Appeals Court Upholds Right of Unsheltered to Not Be Criminalized for Sleeping in Public When There Have No Alternatives For Housing

(September 4, 2018, Boise, Idaho) – This week, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed what The Village has been asserting all along: that unsheltered persons punished for sleeping outside in the absence of adequate alternatives are victims of cruel and unusual punishment. In Martin v. Boise (formerly Bell v. Boise) – a lawsuit challenging Boise, Idaho’s ban on sleeping in public – the court of appeals sided with unsheltered individuals who have been criminalized under Boise’s policy. The courts agreed the unsheltered residents had their 8th Amendment constitutional rights violated by the City.

The Ninth Circuit held that the United States Constitution ‘prohibits the imposition of criminal penalties for sitting, sleeping, or lying outside on public property for homeless individuals who cannot obtain shelter.’ This decision impacts California, Alaska, Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Guam & Mariana Islands.

Two years ago, the Department of Justice recognized in this case, “[c]riminalizing public sleeping in cities with insufficient housing and support for homeless individuals does not improve public safety outcomes or reduce the factors that contribute to homelessness.”

The Village has asserted this interpretation of constitutional law for the past two years as The City of Oakland’s Administration repeatedly shuffles, moves, closes down and evicts dozens of encampments in Oakland.

“Not only is this practice and policy a violation of constitutional law and human rights law, its absolutely inhumane and ineffective,” said The Village co-founder and lead organizer Needa Bee. “Some of our unsheltered neighbors have been unconscionably evicted three or four times in this past year since the City of Oakland adopted this practice one year ago almost to the day. How appropriate to mark the Oakland Administration’s one year anniversary of their first eviction – by having the Ninth Circuit declaring it is a constitutional violation.”

Homeless advocates hope the court’s decision, will force bureaucrats to redirect resources towards meaningful and constitutional solutions to the problem of homelessness.

“The current Tuff Shed Camps are not the answer. Not only are we documenting numerous human rights violations, but the process in which they are created are in direct violation of the Court’s ruling,” said Steven Di Caprio Executive Director of Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute. “The city chose to create their Tuff Shed sites in two of the largest encampments in West Oakland – both with more than 100 residents. Yet the Tuff Sheds only temporarily house 40 people. The other 60 plus residents had their 8th Amendment constitutional rights violated when they were forced to move.”

Di Caprio, Bee and other homeless advocates and unsheltered residents have referred to the Tuff Shed sites “prison camps,” “torture camps,” or “concentration camps.” Many assert that more than the 8th Amendment is violated at the Tuff Shed sites.

“The Tuff Shed Prison Camps also violate the 4th amendment illegal search & seizure and right of privacy, the 5th Amendment right to due process, the 14th amendment right to due process and equal protection, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant Against Torture and All Forms of Cruel and Unusual Punishment,: Di Caprio said. “You can’t throw someone in a prison camp and say this is housing.”

Currently the Administration is planning to create a new Tuff Shed site in the Henry J. Kaiser Auditorium Parking Lot to house 40 people that live around Lake Merritt. To date at least 150 people live in tents or handmade structures around Lake Merritt. The City plans on beginning to evict these unhoused residents in the next week. When the City shut down the encampments surrounding the Brush Street and Northgate Tuff Shed sites, several of the residents went to The Village seeking sanctuary.

“We already were beyond capacity with the six encampments the Administration herded onto the land. But we did not turn anyone away. Because were else will they go? Will Libby’s Administration continue her legacy of violating the human rights and constitutional rights of Oakland’s most vulnerable residents?” asked Bobby Qui Building Lead & Organizer for The Village. “We hope not. What really needs to happen is The City needs to stop selling public property for market and above market rate development and start building housing that those of us who have been gentrified can afford. Getting unsheltered people into housing is a win-win approach. It benefits those without shelter and the communities that are impacted by neighbors living in public spaces. And it costs so much less than criminalizing the unsheltered.”through the criminal justice system.”

In March 2018 The Village learned they would be evicted from the land the City offered them months before for a scheduled CalTrans bridge retrofit. CalTrans was unaware that the Administration had offered The Village the parcel or that six encampments had been herded onto the land. The Village continues to demand land that Oakland City Council instructed the Administration to lease the grassroots movement. Eviction on The Village and retrofitting process is scheduled for November 2018. The City Hall rumor mill has told Bee that the City will charge The Village for trespassing and allow CalTrans to bulldoze the shelter and facilities they have built.

“Let’s see if we get the land to move on, or if the City Administration gets a lawsuit,” Bee said. “The Ninth Circuit has declared as long as there is no option of sleeping indoors, the government cannot criminalize curbside communities for sleeping outdoors, on public property, on the false premise they had a choice in the matter. Where will the residents at e12th & 23rd go in November? Where will the 150 unsheltered residents around the Lake go when they are evicted?”

Contact: Needa Bee



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