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9th court decision on public sleeping likely won’t impact Seattle

(AP Photo)

The recent 9th Circuit Court decision stipulated that homeless people have a constitutional right to remain on the sidewalk or in a park if they have nowhere else to go. Though it appears the decision could have ripple effects nationwide, City Attorney Pete Holmes doesn’t believe so.

“This is tricky. The reason Pete Holmes thinks it doesn’t apply to Seattle is because we don’t have an outright ban, we just have restricted areas where people can’t be,” said KIRO Radio’s Tom Tangney.

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. The difference for Seattle is that Boise has a strict ordinance banning sleeping in public places, whereas Seattle does not have an outright ban and is more selective in its application of enforcement.

“Because we don’t arrest them, because we don’t criminalize their behavior,” Tom added. “Instead, we just move them on if it’s a problem. That allows us to avoid the application of this law.”

In reaching the decision, it was believed that Boise was criminalizing the very act of being homeless, which the court found unconstitutional.

“Unlike Boise, Seattle has no blanket citywide policy that criminalizes sleeping outside, therefore we don’t expect that this decision will affect the way the City is able to respond to people living outdoors,” Holmes said in a statement to The Seattle Times.

How should Seattle deal with homeless who refuse shelter beds?

Regardless of what impact the decision has, KIRO Radio’s John Curley believes Seattle needs a better system for dealing with the homeless who both refuse to move, and refuse to accept available services.

“So the guy’s laying there on the sidewalk, which is illegal, or he’s sleeping in the park, which is illegal,” Curley said. “And you say, ‘Hey, do you have anywhere else to go?’ And the person says no. ‘Well, there’s a shelter about a mile away from here,’ and the person says, ‘I don’t want to go to that shelter because it stinks or it’s dirty.’

“At this point, what does the law do? Do we pick them up and drop them off at the shelter? Or do we turn a blind eye and let them continue to break the law?”

“Well, if there’s a shelter bed and they don’t take it, and they are warned about that, then they can be ticketed for trespassing and could end up in court,” Tom responded.

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

Though it’s not necessarily apparent, Seattle prohibits people from lying or sitting on the sidewalk in mostly downtown and commercial areas, between the hours of 7 am and 9 pm. As the Seattle Times reports, this year 186 people have been cited under the sit-lie ordinance, and Holmes’ office charged only five people this year for trespassing in public parks.

In any case, Curley likes that Boise is examining their homeless process, if only because it may help our own.

“I think it’s good that they’re making Boise step up,” he said. “Because if Boise now has to budget for the homeless and provide some type of service, we’ll get less Boise bums coming here to Seattle.”

“There you go,” Tom added.

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