In their lawsuit against the city of Boise, several homeless people alleged that they face a threat of being cited for violating city ordinances prohibiting camping and sleeping at night in public places.
In his ruling, Judge Ronald E. Bush found the plaintiffs are not facing “imminent injury” and therefore may not challenge the ordinances.
“Additionally, neither plaintiff has shown that he cannot or will not stay in one or more of the available shelters, if there is space available, or that he has a disability that prevents him from accessing shelter space. Thus, there is no actual or imminent threat that either plaintiff will be cited for violating the ordinances,” stated the judge.
Since the lawsuit was filed in 2009, the city has amended its ordinance to prohibit police from enforcing the camping and sleeping ordinances when local nonprofit service providers have no capacity to provide services to homeless individuals.
The judge cited the city’s policy of not enforcing those ordinances, noting there “is no known citation of a homeless individual under the ordinances for camping or sleeping on public property on any night or morning when he or she was unable to secure shelter due to a lack of shelter capacity.”
The U.S. Department of Justice weighed in on the lawsuit recently, criticizing the ordinances. In its filing, the federal government argued that making it a crime for people who are homeless to sleep in public places when there is insufficient shelter space unconstitutionally punishes them for being homeless.
Even though the plaintiffs lack standing in this particular case, the judge noted that does not mean other plaintiffs would lack standing to pursue similar claims.
“There may, for instance, be an individual with a mental or physical condition that has interfered with her or her ability to seek access to or stay at shelters, with such difficulties likely to continue in the future. Or, perhaps a homeless individual will refuse to stay at the River of Life and can support a claim that the facility requires participation in religious practices for homeless individuals to stay in temporary housing there,” Bush stated.
Boise Mayor Dave Bieter said the city is pleased with the court’s decision.
“Now, with this case behind us, we will be able to better focus on creating positive gains against this challenging societal problem. Moving forward, the city of Boise’s priorities will continue to be protecting the health and safety of all residents, while working with our governmental, nonprofit, corporate and faith-based partners on next steps toward long-term, holistic gains for our most vulnerable residents,” Bieter said in a statement.
The Boise Rescue Mission responded to the outcome by saying it would continue to provide safe spaces for homeless people.
“The mission has not and will not turn any person needing shelter away. If the beds are full, accommodations are made for a comfortable sleeping arrangement on a floor,” Bill Roscoe, president of the mission, said in a statement.