Federal court rules cities can't force unhoused people off streets without providing shelter

street with tents on sidewalk
Encampments along 5th Street in downtown Los Angeles Photo credit Getty Images

The most powerful federal appeals court in the western United States once again refused to let cities and towns force the homeless off of the streets unless communities provide shelter for them.

Cities large and small across the west coast have tried, and failed, to overturn the higher court's ruling for years, the latest of which came from the Oregon city, Grants Pass.

"We are having a situation where the police were telling homeless people that they couldn't sleep in public or private, and private property," said Grants Pass Mayor Sara Bristol. "And eventually, that kind of boiled down to homeless people feeling like they couldn't find a place to rest where they weren't being harassed."

Bristol said the ruling highlights deep political divisions in her city and county. There are currently a few solutions on the table.

"There's been so much discussion and controversy in the community that we're kind of at a standstill about what to do about it," said Bristol.

This court has dictated Los Angeles' response to the homeless crisis for years. The city was forced to accept encampments because of a staggering shortage of shelters.

But the court was more divided on this case than ever with a growing number of judges appointed by former President Donald Trump lashing out. They claimed the homeless, by occupying public space, are destroying the quality of life in many cities.

"Homelessness is presently the defining public health and safety crisis in the western United States," wrote conservative Judge Milan Smith Jr. "There are stretches of (Los Angeles) where one cannot help but think the government has shirked its most basic responsibilities under the social contract: providing public safety and ensuring that public spaces remain open to all."

Political expert Jessica Levinson said that this decision shows how Trump's appointments have influenced the Ninth Circuit Court.

"This decision really shows the break in the Ninth Circuit," she said. "It shows how much President Trump's judicial nominees have changed the Ninth Circuit, in the sense that there is now a solid conservative block. But the decision not to read here means we maintain the status quo."

The latest homeless count showed the unhoused population surging in Venice and West L.A. Many believe the status quo needs to improve.

Finn Schmidt lived on the west side for the past four and half years, raising his son Lilo here. he agrees with the court's decision to allow camping when there is nowhere else to go.

"At least providing an option where there is shelter so, for people on the street, there is an option to go somewhere where you have a roof above your head," he said.

Others believed the court's ruling will cut down on the harassment of the unhoused.

"I think people are getting called too much to come out and deal with behavior issues," said one resident. "Between those who are homeless and they're just trying to find a place to lay down."

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Featured Image Photo Credit: Getty Images