U.S. Supreme Court sides with Grants Pass in homelessness case

The U.S. Supreme Court has released a 6-3 ruling that a homelessness ordinance in Grants Pass, Oregon, does not violate the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

The ruling could pave the way for stricter rules on homelessness in every Oregon community, and the ripple effect could reach across state lines.

Plaintiffs in the case of City of Grants Pass v. Johnson had argued that criminalizing the state of being homelessness crossed a constitutional barrier. They cited, for precedent, Robinson v. California, a 1962 decision in which the Supreme Court ruled that the criminalization of addiction violates the Eighth Amendment. Plaintiffs in the Grants Pass case have argued that the state of being homeless is like being an addict; as such, people should not face criminal charges for it.

Service providers also cited Martin v. Boise, a 2018 appeals court case, which ruled that the city of Boise infringed on the constitutional rights of homeless people by making it a crime to sleep outside even when they have nowhere else to go.

Grants Pass is in Josephine County, south of Roseburg. The town of nearly 40,000 has about 600 people who are homeless, according to service providers. The only nonprofit that can provide shelter in that city can house only up to 100 beds, according to a brief submitted for the Supreme Court case.

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