Homelessness used to be a big-city issue — Democratic big cities. But the homelessness crisis has hit Republican states and regions as well. Montana, Arizona, and Idaho have joined California, Oregon, and Washington in asking the Supreme Court for the authority to clear homeless encampments that are making life intolerable for residents and governments.
The crisis has its origin in a ruling by the Ninth Circuit five years ago that it was unconstitutional for cities to clear homeless camps and charge campers unless the cities could offer housing for those living in the camps.
Homeless advocates say that the cities are trying to criminalize homelessness.
“They’re seeking to blame and penalize and marginalize the victims rather than take the steps they haven’t found the political will to take,” said Eric Tars, the senior policy director at the National Homelessness Law Center. Tars thinks that it’s just the same old story of governments cracking down on vulnerable people instead of doing their jobs and building the housing needed.
Even so, very few cities in the West have enough shelter beds to serve everyone who is homeless in their jurisdictions, and that gap has made officials wary of enforcing local laws that prohibit individuals from setting up tents anywhere in public. All told, more than 50 governments and organizations asked the high court this month to overturn the Ninth Circuit’s recent decisions.
The recent filings stem from a case that focuses on whether the small city of Grants Pass, Ore., can write citations when people camp in public spaces such as sidewalks, playgrounds and parks. Unlike Boise, Grants Pass had issued civil citations rather than pursue criminal charges until the Ninth Circuit determined that municipal tickets were also forbidden, absent sufficient shelter beds.
Even offering shelter is usually not good enough.
But many homeless people refuse help, the cities said — the Portland brief reported that about 75 percent of some 3,400 offers of shelter were turned down from last May to this July — and the courts over the past five years have seriously hobbled their ability to force recalcitrant people out of tent camps and into supportive housing.
“They’re essentially aligning themselves with former President Donald Trump and others on the right who want to criminalize homelessness,” Tars said. “Communities are free to address homelessness through any of the many evidence-based approaches that can solve and end it. The only thing they can’t do is arrest or cite homeless people without bothering to give them any alternative.”
“Evidence-based approaches”? Which ones would those be? Since there has never been a city that has “solved” or “ended” homelessness, what’s this delusional nutcase talking about?
The only thing that will “end” homelessness is building a lot more affordable housing and spending a lot of money to bring mental health services to people who essentially don’t want them. And if they don’t want those services, they need to be placed in an institution where they can be treated for their illness.
There are no reliable tests to give the mentally ill that would tell us whether they are a danger to themselves or others. “Oh, he’s fine as long as he takes his meds” is not very reassuring to the public at large. The idea we can allow these sick people to roam the streets after they refuse to take their medication and refuse shelter is insane.
There is a movement to force treatment on the mentally ill. I agree this should be a last resort. But what other options exist for people who insist on remaining homeless, refusing to take medication that would allow them to function in our society, and declining shelter when offered?
It’s homeless advocates who are the primary obstacle to dealing rationally with the homeless crisis. They aren’t helping. And if they really cared about the homeless, they would align themselves with governments that are trying to address the homelessness problem with as much compassion and intelligence as they can muster.