The federal court decision affecting homeless tent encampments in America

Sunday, June 25th, 2023

Five years ago, a federal court issued a crucial ruling, Martin v. Boise, affecting homeless tent encampments in America:

People experiencing homelessness, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals said, can’t be punished for sleeping outside on public property if there are no adequate alternatives available.


The case dates back to 2009, when Robert Martin and a group of fellow homeless residents in Boise, Idaho, sued, arguing that police citations they received for breaking local camping bans violated their constitutional rights. In 2018, the Ninth Circuit agreed that prosecuting people for sleeping or camping on public property when they have no home or shelter to go to violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

“The government cannot criminalize indigent, homeless people for sleeping outdoors, on public property, on the false premise they had a choice in the matter,” the court declared.

States, cities, and counties urged the US Supreme Court to take up the case, arguing the Ninth Circuit had created “a de facto” right to live on sidewalks and in parks that would “cripple” local leaders’ ability to safely govern their communities. But in 2019, the court declined, baffling some experts, though others suspect it’s because there were no conflicting circuit decisions at the time.


While the decision only formally applies in areas under the Ninth Circuit’s jurisdiction, the ruling has reverberated nationally, as local governments consider how to address unsheltered homelessness in ways that could avoid costly constitutional legal battles. There have already been dozens of court cases citing Martin, including in the Fourth Circuit in Virginia, and federal lower courts in Ohio, Missouri, Florida, Texas, New York, and Hawaii.

For now, though, Martin’s impact can be seen most clearly out West. Just before Christmas 2022, for example, a district judge cited Martin when she ruled that San Francisco can no longer enforce encampment sweeps — meaning clear out homeless individuals and their property from an outdoor area — since the city lacks enough shelter beds for those experiencing homelessness to move into. San Francisco appealed the decision, arguing it’s “unnecessarily broad and has put the City in an impossible situation.”

In Phoenix, Arizona, residents and business owners filed a lawsuit last summer against the city for allowing a downtown homeless encampment to grow with nearly 1,000 people, but a federal judge — echoing Martin — barred Phoenix in December from conducting sweeps if there are more homeless people than shelter beds available. A competing decision issued in March by a state judge ordered Phoenix officials to clean up the “public nuisance” at the encampment by July 10, arguing the city has “erroneously” applied Martin to date.


  1. Mike-SMO says:

    That assumes that the locale has an obligation to take care of the homeless defectives. The city might just claim that the enforcement is designed to move the burden someplace else. After all, reports suggest that most of the “homeless” came from someplace else. Let everyplace take care of their own.

  2. Bruce says:

    Refuse to enforce public order.
    Get disorder. Something must be done.
    Democratic Party pork is something.
    Slather the shakedown with a sob story.

  3. Jim says:

    Throughout all of extant human history from the time of Hammurabi until no earlier than 1971, “cruel and unusual punishment” meant and included torts like the kidnapping of a man’s issue and the unjust enrichment of his wayward wife.

    Today, of course, it means principally, the purely hateful killing of precisely six million Jews (not one more or less) in Herr Hitler’s personal concentration death camps, and secondarily, mandatorily federally imposed recreational public vagrancy and so on, indubitably under either or both of the Equal Protection and/or Commerce Clauses, provided, as everyone knows, by the Founding Fathers in order that federal judges, appointed by the Congress, would have power to directly regulate the conduct of men in the States.

    To quote the learned Rabbi Reuven, demography is destiny. Could these great advancements of U.S. jurisprudence be because so many judges are now women, Jews, or, like the judge of Martin v. Boise, both women and Jews?

  4. Bob Sykes says:

    The issue is not where the homeless live, but the existence of the homeless. A number of years ago they were almost entirely mentally ill men, but now they include young men and women and families.

    Here in north-central rural Ohio the small town of Mt. Vernon had two such camps, which were consolidated when one burned down.

    Besides the rise of homelessness we have:

    1. a rampant drug epidemic;

    2. an obesity epidemic, a major of American are obese, probably half of them morbidly obese;

    3. a declining life expectancy (!!);

    4. a declining height (!!);

    5. a white population that is actually declining in numbers, and that is a minority in the under 15 yo cohort;

    6. school teachers and medical doctors that groom young children for pedophiles and that mutilate them for profit and ideoology;

    7. a military/intelligence sector that is engaged in numerous, endless, unwinnable war on almost every continent;

    7. a government at all levels that is irredeemably corrupt and incompetent, most especially the courts at all levels.

    America is a country in free-fall collapse. Homelessness is a problem and a symptom of collapse, but their are many others.

  5. Jim says:

    …mandatorily federally imposed [women in pants] and so on, indubitably under either or both of the Equal Protection and/or Commerce Clauses, provided, as everyone knows, by the Founding Fathers in order that federal judges, appointed by the Congress, would have power to directly regulate the conduct of men in the States.

    You people think that I’m kidding.

    Courtesy of CNN (Corporate News Network):

    The Supreme Court on Monday left in place a lower court opinion that [allegedly] invalidated a [rule] at a North Carolina [privately incorporated] charter school [at which women wore skirts].

    A federal appeals court had previously held that the school, Charter Day, violated the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause in enforcing the requirement and concluded that the school was a state actor with respect to its student [school uniform].

    “We observe that nothing in the Equal Protection Clause prevents [U.S. government] schools from teaching universal values of [women wearing pants and pretending to be men],” the United States Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit held.

    “But those values are never advanced by [failing to sufficiently enthusiastically pretend that boys and girls are perfectly interchangeable aspiring office drones] in a [private school that by the magic of federal judicial construction we deem a public] school,” the majority wrote, adding that the “[skirted school uniform] blatantly perpetuates harmful gender stereotypes as part of the [U.S. government] education provided to North Carolina’s young [strangers in a strange land].”

    I never kid.

  6. Bill says:

    Marshall Brain (the How Stuff Works guy) solves this problem in his free online 2002 story Manna with the terrafoam dorm building:

    “Because no one had a window, they could really pack people into these buildings. Each terrafoam dorm building had a four-acre foot print. It was a perfect 417 foot by 417 foot by 417 foot solid brown cube. Each cube originally held exactly 76,800 people. Doubling this to 153,600 people in each building was unthinkable, but they were doing it anyway. On the other hand, you had to marvel at the efficiency. At that density, they could house every welfare recipient in the entire country in less than 1,500 of these buildings. By spacing the buildings 100 feet apart, they could house 200,000,000 people in a space of less than 20 square miles if they had wanted to. At that density, they could put everyone in the country without a job into a space less than five miles square in size, put a fence around it and forget about us…

    They clustered the buildings on trash land well away from urban centers so no one had to look at them. It was a lot like an old-style college dorm. Each person got a 5 foot by 10 foot room with a bed and a TV — the world’s best pacifier…

    There were no windows anywhere in the building. It was a cost-cutting measure, but it also helped to make every room identical. The ceiling height was 7 feet throughout, so it felt very small all the time. LED lights everywhere — our room was absolutely identical to every other room in the building and had a single, bare two-foot LED panel bolted to the ceiling. There was the same panel every ten feet in the hallways…”

    Read the short story to find out more. It’s pretty slick – except, you know, horrifying.

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