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EXCERPTS US DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE LETTER OF INTEREST

Posted on September 15, 2015 by Jonathan

Artwork by Roonie Goodman

Artwork by Roonie Goodman

The United States Department of Justice filed a “Statement of Interest of the United States Department of Justice”, filed August 6 of this year,  regarding  a suit, Janet F. Bell v City of Boise, in which Boise’s anti-camping law, very similar to ours was challenged.  The Department of Justice Statement of Interest basically advises the Court in which a case is being tried of the Constitutional issues which must dictate its decision.
“Using this reasoning, the vital question for the Court becomes: Given the current homeless population and available shelter space in Boise, as well as any restrictions on those shelter beds, are homeless individuals in Boise capable of conforming the necessary life activity of sleeping to the current law? If not, enforcing the anti-camping ordinances and criminalizing sleeping in public violates the Eighth Amendment, because it is no different from criminalizing homelessness itself. The Jones framework, developed from analyses of earlier cases, makes it clear that punishing homeless people for “acts they are forced to perform in public effectively punishes them for being homeless.”
In addition to the legal opinion, the DOJ Letter of Interest also addresses the efficacy of No Camping and No Sleeping  Laws, and I quote.

“Criminalizing public sleeping in cities with insufficient housing and support for homeless individuals does not improve public safety outcomes or reduce the factors that contribute to homelessness. As noted by the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, “[r]ather than helping people to regain housing, obtain employment, or access needed treatment and service, criminalization creates a costly revolving door that circulates individuals experiencing homelessness from the street to the criminal justice system and back.”17 Issuing citations for public sleeping forces individuals into the criminal justice system and creates additional obstacles to overcoming homelessness. Criminal records can create barriers to employment and participation in permanent, supportive housing programs.18 Convictions under these municipal ordinances can also lead to lengthy jail sentences based on the ordinance violation itself, or the inability to pay fines and fees associated with the ordinance violation. Incarceration, in turn, has a profound effect on these individuals’ lives.19   Finally, pursuing charges against individuals for sleeping in public imposes further burdens on scarce public defender, judicial, and carceral resources. Thus, criminalizing homelessness is both unconstitutional and misguided public policy, leading to worse outcomes for people who are homeless and for their communities.

CONCLUSION
For the reasons stated above, the Court should adopt the analysis in Jones to evaluate Boise’s anti-camping and disorderly conduct ordinances as applied to Plaintiffs in this case. If the Court finds that it is impossible for homeless individuals to secure shelter space on some nights because no beds are available, no shelter meets their disability needs, or they have exceeded the maximum stay limitations, then the Court should also find that enforcement of the ordinances under those circumstances criminalizes the status of being homeless and violates the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution.

Sharon Brett
Attorney for the United States of America

As we all know, Eugene’s homeless population far exceeds the number of shelter beds available.  Additionally,  there is virtually no shelter for those with serious medical problems, with serious mental health problems  serious addiction problems.  Since we cannot provide adequate shelter, enforcement of Eugene’s anti camping laws is clearly in violation of Amendment 8 of the US Constitution.

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