The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision Monday not to consider a 2018 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling on homelessness has profound implications for how the disadvantaged population is treated in nine Western states, including California. The appellate court threw out a law from Boise, Idaho — which had allowed police to arrest people for sleeping in public — on the grounds such arrests were cruel and unusual punishment if shelter beds or housing were unavailable for homeless residents.

San Diego County and dozens of other local governments had joined in or authored amicus briefs that argued Boise-type laws are crucial to maintaining public health and safety. The high court’s dismissal of this argument means that going forward, municipalities will have fewer options to deal with homelessness — and that crackdowns aimed at homeless camps may not be legal in most situations.

Given that Western states were already required to heed the 9th Circuit’s ruling, there probably will be no major policy changes in San Diego and elsewhere as a result of the high court’s action. The main effect seems likely to be a recognition by cities that they need to add much more shelter to relieve the quality of life problems posed by having large numbers of people sleeping on public property.

As Mayor Kevin Faulconer said in a statement reacting to the ruling, “California cities will continue to see encampments grow unless they provide alternative sources of shelter.” And as The San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board noted last week, what might be called “homelessness fatigue” is a real problem that could turn into a backlash undercutting constructive efforts to address the problem. Having more shelter beds would reduce public frustration over unsanitary sidewalks and streets.


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