April 14, 2006
Appeals Court Ruling Ends the Criminalization of Homelessness
LOS ANGELES --
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a historic decision today in a case
filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and the
National Lawyers Guild seeking an end to the criminalization of people who sleep
on the streets when no shelter is available.
The decision in the case, Jones
v. City of Los Angeles
, marks the first time in a decade that a court has struck
down an ordinance that criminalizes the lack of shelter.
"Anyone who cares
about homelessness and finding positive solutions to this serious issue in our
community will be delighted and encouraged by this decision," said Ramona
Ripston, Executive Director of the ACLU of Southern California. "The ACLU has
always maintained that police should target serious crime like rape and drug
trafficking and not criminalize people for sleeping on the street when there is
nowhere else to go."
Writing for the majority, Judge Kim M. Wardlaw ordered
the District Court to stop enforcement of a Los Angeles city code that allows
police to arrest people for sleeping on the street when there are no available
shelter beds. Judge Wardlaw’s opinion cited news articles about the issue from
The New York Times
and the Los Angeles Times
, including a recent front-page
series on homelessness on Skid Row by columnist Steve Lopez.
Amendment prohibits the City from punishing involuntary sitting, lying, or
sleeping on public sidewalks that is an unavoidable consequence of being human
and homeless without shelter in the City of Los Angeles," Judge Wardlaw
ACLU of Southern California Legal Director Mark Rosenbaum, who argued
the case in December, called the decision "brave."
"This decision is the most
significant judicial opinion involving homelessness in the history of the
nation," Rosenbaum said. "The decision means in Los Angeles it is no longer a
crime to be homeless. The homeless in our community, twenty percent of whom are
veterans and nearly a quarter of whom are children, can no longer be treated as
criminals because of involuntary acts like sleeping and sitting where there are
not available shelter beds to take them off the mean streets of the city. My
hope is that the city will now treat homelessness as a social problem affecting
all of us, not as a crime."
The case, originally filed in February 2003 by
the ACLU of Southern California and Carol Sobel for the National Lawyers Guild,
sought to end the enforcement of Section 41.18 (d) of Los Angeles city code.
In Los Angeles County at least 88,000 men, women and children -- 8,000 to
10,000 in Downtown Los Angeles alone -- are without homes. There are beds for
less than half of the homeless in Los Angeles county, comprehensive services are
available to far fewer than half, and the county jails are routinely used as a
substitution for mental health facilities.