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How the Courts Made the Homeless Crisis Worse

April 22, 2024

The autopsy says Geoffrey Rugwiro died from blunt-force trauma. But Rugwiro—a 47-year-old homeless man murdered in Phoenix last spring—was a victim of government malfeasance. Across the country, particularly in Western states, officials have neglected to enforce laws against public camping and loitering. The result has been an epidemic of homelessness that has spread pollution, disease and violence through some of our largest cities.

The Supreme Court hears oral arguments Monday in a case about one of the main sources of this tragedy: a Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision that some local officials have used as cover to avoid protecting all citizens’ rights.

That decision, Johnson v. Grants Pass (2022), and another Ninth Circuit ruling, Martin v. Boise (2018), declared it unconstitutional to arrest people for camping on sidewalks if a city’s homeless population exceeds the number of beds available in its homeless shelters. The appeals court’s reasoning went like this: Supreme Court precedent says it’s “cruel and unusual” to punish someone for doing something he can’t help doing, and if there aren’t shelter beds available, then anyone who sleeps on the streets or public parks is doing so “involuntarily.”

Read the rest of the op-ed at The Wall Street Journal.

Timothy Sandefur is the Vice President for Legal Affairs at the Goldwater Institute.



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