People Don’t Have the Right to Sleep Outdoors

In a Monday showdown in the Supreme Court over whether the homeless have a “right” to camp in public, hardly anyone mentioned the actual victims of the ridiculous idea. Advocates for the homeless, including the American Civil Liberties Union, informed the court living on the streets is a “victimless” crime. 

A victimless crime?

Anyone who has had to step over human feces and needles and navigate around half-conscious humans while taking their children to school or walking to work is a victim. Every store owner whose entrance is blocked by slapped-together cardboard shelters is a victim. Each family that wants to utilize a neighborhood park and finds it littered with sprawling tents and garbage is a victim. 

Statistics show that the homeless are more likely to commit violent crimes than those who aren’t homeless. The public has every reason to be worried. 

Municipalities all over the United States are watching the City of Grants Pass, Oregon v. Johnson, which challenges a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that bars penalties for sleeping with blankets and additional paraphernalia on public property. 

Known for its left-wing rulings — the 9th Circuit — says these penalties add up to “cruel and unusual punishment” because the homeless don’t have a choice.

Making no choice is another whopper. Authorities in San Francisco report that 60% of individuals who are homeless and living on the streets refuse shelter when it is offered.

Every person is guaranteed shelter in New York City. When Mayor Eric Adams sends outreach teams from the Department of Homeless Services to tent encampments, only around 5% take the shelter offer. The other 95% choose to live on the streets.

Conservative Justice Clarence Thomas got closest to the truth when he asked if the ordinance in Grants Pass criminalizes lacking a home or the intentional decision to sleep outside instead of going to a shelter.

A significant surprise is who has decided to side with Grants Pass. Democratic politicians, including California Governor Gavin Newsom, and a long list of blue cities—except New York City—have joined in.

Lawyers for Grants Pass explain the 9th Circuit has “erected a judicial roadblock” that affects virtually every western municipality, preventing them from clearing the encampments.

The results are “crime, fires, the re-emergence of medieval diseases, environmental harm, record levels of drug overdoses, and deaths on public streets.”

In a friend-of-the-court brief, city officials in Phoenix complain that 9th Circuit judges are acting like “homeless policy czars” and usurped what local governments should decide. Justice Brett Kavanaugh echoed the sentiment, warning against “federal courts micromanaging” policy for the homeless.

That is what has been happening. Regulations against camping adopted in Los Angeles, Portland, Oregon, San Francisco, and Phoenix were all blocked after the 9th Circuit’s precedent. Courts in the rest of America have also cited that precedent to tolerate homeless encampments. 

Grants Pass isn’t typical of the larger cities wrestling with homelessness, so the case outcome is a bit difficult to predict. It’s a small town of 40,000 with a church-run, small shelter.

However, Monday’s argument suggests the justices will rule 6-3 or 5-4 that municipalities can sleep on public property. The ruling is set to affect the whole nation.

Except for New York City, which has moved far away from common sense. The City Council adopted a “Homeless Bill of Rights” in 2023, which made New York City the only large city with an explicit right to sleep in public places—and Mayor Adams didn’t veto it. There wouldn’t have been any point. The legislation was adopted unanimously. What were the city’s lawmakers thinking?

The homeless deserve compassion, however, allowing them to succumb to disease or freeze to death isn’t compassionate. Data shows they are shortening their lifespan by 30 years or greater.

The city’s public advocate, Jumaane Williams, sponsored the “Homeless Bill of Rights” and argued that the city must look at the root causes of homelessness instead of “stoking fear.”

However, fear is deserved. The public deserve safe, clean streets. 

The expected ruling from the court will allow local authorities across the country to crack down on homeless encampments, But the justices cannot force them to do so.

The lawful public — real victims of homelessness — must elect local leaders who will say “no” to preferring homeless rights over the rights of everyday Americans.