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Supreme Court Takes on Homeless Camps

Is it lawful to crack down on homeless camps in your city? The Supreme Court is hearing a case to decide just that.

A city in Oregon does not have homeless shelters, which has caused the homeless to sleep on the streets. When the city tried to clear these homeless encampments, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that they could not because “such measures effectively criminalized homelessness, violating Eighth Amendment precedent that forbids punishing people for their status rather than actions.” This was appealed to the Supreme Court and the justices on Monday seemed to be sympathetic to the city in their line of questioning.

Chief Justice John Roberts acknowledged that “municipalities have competing priorities.” For instance, he said, “Do you build a homeless shelter or take care of the lead pipes” contaminating the water supply? “What if there’s not enough fire protection? Which one do you prioritize?”

Homelessness in the U.S. has reached the highest number since the federal government began tracking it, which has led to what journalist Michael Shellenberger calls “the homeless industrial complex.” Competing groups vie for government money with different agendas and that has only made this worse, not only for the homeless but for the homed and working people whose tax dollars chase but don’t solve the problem.

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