US DOJ: It's unconstitutional to prohibit the homeless from sleeping outside


Banning the homeless from sleeping outside when they have nowhere else to sleep is unconstitutional, argues the United States Department of Justice in a statement of interest filed regarding a Boise, Idaho court case about an anti-camping ordinance.

According to the DOJ, such ordinances may violet the US Constitution's Eighth Amendment, prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment. From the DOJ filing:

When adequate shelter space exists, individuals have a choice about whether or not to sleep in public. However, when adequate shelter space does not exist, there is no meaningful distinction between the status of being homeless and the conduct of sleeping in public. Sleeping is a life-sustaining activity—i.e., it must occur at some time in some place. If a person literally has nowhere else to go, then enforcement of the anti-camping ordinance against that person criminalizes her for being homeless.

(Washington Post)

Notable Replies

  1. I don't like that they make the distinction between when there is adequate shelter space and when there isn't. Just because there is enough shelter space, doesn't meant that homeless people should be forced to go to them if they don't want to.

  2. Continuing the George Carlin goodness. . .

  3. Good on the DoJ for standing up for the homeless. I sort of feel like it may not really protect the homeless as it does not go far enough. Many cities will design public spaces to make it nearly impossible or very uncomfortable for the homeless to have a safe space to rest/sleep. I'd like to see the DoJ prohibiting cities from intentionally doing this to the homeless. If they really want to deal with the situation then offer them a safer space or a better alternative rather than being passive-aggressive over where they can rest.

  4. If public defecation is a problem its because cities like to harass and make life difficult for the homeless rather than provide them with hassle-free options. Look at Utah's (of all states) program for dealing with the homeless, they provide them with no strings attached free housing. And to date it has been the most successful program in the nation.

    God forbid we treat those less fortunate like human beings.

  5. I think this is a valid point, but I think it's also valid to say that as a community we have a legitimate interest in not allowing people to "camp" just anywhere. But we can't just make rules; we have to take on responsibilities to provide people shelter.

    I start from the position of "natural right" in this matter; a person, born to this earth naked and afraid like we all are, has a natural right to inhabit the land underneath their feet, to build a shelter and use their natural surroundings to provide food and water for themselves. At a bare minimum, this is what we all have in our natural state. When we start to impose rules, and create a society that includes a system of ownership over every square inch of space, every deer in the forest, every tree that grows on the land, and every drop from every stream, we take away those natural rights. Anyone who chooses to join or remain in a society therefore gives up those rights under social contract, but they must be compensated for that exchange through that same social contract, because a contract is inherently an agreement between two parties that includes consideration on both sides. The consideration that the society must provide is that shelter, food and water and all those things that a person has as natural rights will be provided for them free of charge, if they are unable to provide for themselves under the rules that society creates. And those must be provided by those who have from the rules benefited the most.

    I look at laws like the Zero Tolerance for Homeless Veterans Act and the programs that it has created that seem to be really effective at dealing with issues of homelessness and poverty, and I think that they provide the model for how we should treat everyone in this society who finds themselves unable under existing rules to provide for themselves. Maybe some day we'll start to see that as our obligation not just to veterans, but to all our fellow citizens.

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