Court Says California Cities Must Let Homeless Sleep On Streets

homelessA ruling this month by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals which holds it is unconstitutional to ban homeless people from sleeping on the streets is likely to complicate the attempts to crack down on homelessness problems by local governments in California.

While the ruling involved a 2009 law adopted by Boise, Idaho, it is binding on California, which is one of the states under the 9th appellate court, which is based in San Francisco.

“[J]ust as the state may not criminalize the state of being ‘homeless in public places,’ the state may not ‘criminalize conduct that is an unavoidable consequence of being homeless — namely sitting, lying, or sleeping on the streets,’” Judge Marsha Berzon wrote for a three-judge panel.

The finding that the law is a cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment was welcomed by activists who have long argued that such restrictions make being poor a crime.

Maria Foscarinis, executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, told the Idaho Statesman that “criminally punishing homeless people for sleeping on the street when they have nowhere else to go is inhumane, and we applaud the court for holding that it is also unconstitutional.” Her group provided an attorney to the handful of Boise homeless men and women who sued over the city’s law.

If Boise does not appeal the ruling, the 9th Circuit will have expanded on the protections for the homeless that it created in 2007. The appellate panel ruled then that Los Angeles could not ban people from sleeping outside when shelters were full.

Legality of living in cars is next battleground

Meanwhile, the next fight over homeless rights in California has already emerged. It involves regulations in many cities that have the de facto effect of banning people from sleeping in their vehicles, even if the practice is not specifically singled out.

In Los Angeles, for example, a city ordinance that bans overnight parking in residential areas and a growing number of such restrictions in commercial areas have made it increasingly difficult for vehicle dwellers to find anywhere to sleep. This has made life difficult for the estimated 15,000 people who live in their cars, trucks or recreational vehicles in the city. The policy prompted sharp criticism from some quarters this spring over a perception that City Hall was insufficiently sympathetic to those without shelter.

City officials in San Diego and Santa Barbara are going in the opposite direction, starting trial programs in which car dwellers are allowed to use a handful of designated parking lots overnight – so long as they meet a handful of rules meant to preserve public safety and to minimize littering and public defecation and urination.

But San Diego may have to expand its program or develop other new policies as well. Last month, federal Judge Anthony Battaglia issued an injunction banning the city from ticketing people for living in their vehicles.

Unlike in the other high-profile federal cases involving city laws and homelessness, Battaglia’s argument wasn’t based on the idea that penalties which appeared to single out the homeless were cruel and unusual.

Instead, he concluded that “plaintiffs have shown a likelihood of success on the merits of their claim that the ordinance is vague because it fails to alert the public what behavior is lawful and what behavior is prohibited.” He noted that some people were given tickets merely for reading books in their cars.

The injunction is not permanent, but Battaglia indicated he is likely to make it so in coming months.

This article was originally published by


  1. Brenda Torres says

    And pretty soon all of California will be just like San Francisco…We will be needing a whole lot more ‘Pooper-Scoopers’…


      Tough one there.

      I’m just going to focus on one living in their own car.

      If one cannot afford to live in an apartment (we all know, the shelters are hellholes of abuse and rape), why is it a problem for the person to sleep in his car?

      Of course there are risks, even with that, and let’s face it, this is not a desirable situation, I think I’d rather take my chances in my vehicle.

  2. Oh great now our cities become garbage dumps for all the dregs of our corrupt librocrat oriented society ! Scotty beam me up there is NO INTELLIGENT life left in Kaliformulastan!

  3. jerry brown CAN tax and tax and tax and use these taxes for everything except homeless people??? This is indeed evil and mean spirited. Dems and the left-libs are MEAN SPIRITED and aim at destroying the state what ever way they can-they are the COMMIES AND THOSE WHO think sharia is an ice-cream not the reality of islam I do feel the Dems . want to destroy CA with their affiliation with the islamics and deny jihad (until it strikes them) .Keep up what you are doing to the homeless you Dems. and perhaps you will pay.

  4. The State of California can only go so far in their ambition to create a
    Socialist State; If that should occur, they will be at logger-heads with
    Article Four, section two of the United States Constitution. The legislature in California is cutting close to the bone on this issue, and
    how far they are willing to proceed is to be seen.

  5. The Ninth Circuit court of shlemiels, should be vacated on the grounds of the number of repeals of their decisions if nothing else. They don’t care about the words within the law only their intreptations on any matter.

  6. Simple. Let the homeless know that the streets where these judges live they can live and sleep and not be hassled. Make sure you give them a bus ticket and a sack lunch and maybe throw in a ten spot.

  7. How lucky for those that have commented to not be homeless. In our little Calif. town the city code enforcer goes around and destroys any place he can find or reach that the homelss try to sleep in. But one place he does not go after is the overpass by the railroad. It is a very steep climb to get up there. Soon it will be wet and cold and only the bigger city 8 miles from us have any help for the homeless.

  8. I always find the 9Th. Circuit COA, quit fascinating. While they can uphold clear unconstitutional second amendment bans, restrictions and regulations, they don’t seem to have a problem finding laws that are handed down to the State due to Constitutional absence “unconstitutional”… Tyranny in a black Robe: Wake Up People, your Country is being over-thrown via: social/progressive legislation, they don’t even hide the fact they ignore and laugh at The Constitution anymore!

  9. Without any mental disorder whatsoever, and due to a matter of circumstance, this fellow Angeleno has found himself miles away from home trying to recover a vehicle to get back on his feet to life again.

Speak Your Mind