We’re not convinced that members of the Supreme Court get how serious a problem this entire nation faces with the growing homelessness issue ... or more aptly, crisis. But the enormity of an issue isn’t necessarily what sways the high court to take up a case ... it’s matters of law they must concern themselves with.
In this case the Supreme Court last week let stand a ruling that prohibits local governments from punishing homeless people for sleeping outdoors on public property if there is no alternative shelter available to them.
You can’t deny someone the right to sleep. But local governments are expected to handle the problem of homelessness and now they have to test-case it along, one possible solution after another. Is it OK to prohibit sleeping on public property during certain times of day? We’ll probably need another lawsuit to find out. Is an alternative such as our 14Forward or Better Way programs --which provide very basic shelter and programming to get people off the street and head them toward permanent housing -- allowable as an alternative to sleeping on other public property? We’ll probably see a test case on that one, too. What sort of distance is acceptable from the places where people are camping to the places local governments want them? Test case needed. Can exceptions be made for public property that is dedicated to the general safety of the community -- a levee for instance? Another court case, perhaps.
As Sutter County Administrator Steve Smith said in a report Wednesday, “Without more clarity from the court, it is likely there will be more trial and error on the part of local government jurisdictions as every community searches for an efficient, humanitarian solution to street and river pollution.”
Like it or hate it, it’s more and more apparent that local governments are just going to have to figure out ways to provide decent and serviceable areas for free camping.
We just drove over one of the local bridges and a couple overpasses ... the views to the right and left are all dotted with encampments -- tents, tarps, sheets of plastic, whatever refuse comes in handy for living full time outdoors.
Sutter and Yuba County have been chipping away at the problem with alternative camping sites, mini-houses, re-entry programs and facilities. The reality, given the Supreme Court’s decision to not take up the case, is that this issue will continue on forever. We might as well resolve to take care of it head-on ... whatever that entails.