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Will 9th circuit court decision allowing sleeping on streets backfire?

A person sleeps under a blanket on the grass at Denny Park in Seattle Monday, May 7, 2018. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

The 9th Circuit Court recently decided that cities can’t prosecute people for sleeping on the streets if they have nowhere else to go, citing cruel and unusual punishment. It’s a ruling that could have ripple effects on how cities manage shelters and public spaces.

“This opens the doors for all cities across the United States, and primarily here on the West Coast, where we coddle the homeless,” said KIRO Radio’s John Curley. “They will have no additional force to keep the parks clean, to keep the streets clear, and they won’t be able to do anything about it.”

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The case was originally brought in 2009 when six homeless people from Boise sued the city over a local ordinance that banned sleeping in public spaces. In reaching the decision, it was believed that Boise was criminalizing the very act of being homeless, which the court found unconstitutional.

“The 9th circuit cuts the legs out from underneath the police and the city to uphold public civil rules,” Curley said. “The sign says no sleeping in the park after dusk. Well now we’re not allowed to enforce that law against the homeless people sleeping there.”

Cities may respond by creating additional shelter beds

While Boise city attorneys are considering their next move, cities like Boise may respond to the decision by creating additional shelter beds and widening the standards for accepting the homeless.

“The solution to this is to build more shelter beds,” said co-host Tom Tangey. “You think if we build more shelter beds, that’s going to be so attractive that people are going to flock from around the country to come here — I think that’s a bit much.”

“Maybe if every city builds all these beds, the fact that there’s a bed won’t matter.”

For Curley, the decision fails to focus on the root causes of homeless, and enables behavior instead of solving it.

“Here’s the difference, Tom. You don’t have to change your behavior. You can continue to drink, you can continue to do drugs, and you can continue to prostitute yourself,” Curley said.

“Until you break those chains of addiction, the person will continue to cycle this life until they eventually die at an early age.”

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