SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) — Does someone have a constitutional right to sleep on a sidewalk? What about in a city park? Following a hearing on Friday, those questions could soon be taken up by the Supreme Court.
“We’ve been working on making that same argument — that it’s not fair to move someone if they have no place to go — for decades,” said Jennifer Friedenbach with the San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness.
For homeless advocates, it was a tremendous victory when the Ninth U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled it unconstitutional when the city of Boise moved a group of homeless people for sleeping on public property.
“They want municipalities to move people in a thoughtful and humane way,” Friedenbach says of that decision. “And if they’re going to be moving them, having somewhere for people to go.”
“With the residents that are here, paying their taxes, looking for a clean sidewalk when they walk their children to school, [I get] e-mails and phone calls saying ‘Mr. Gallo, we want to use our neighborhood park.’ But now, you have people camped out, [and] drugs,” said Oakland city councilman Noel Gallo.
Oakland, in particular, has been wrestling with the fallout from last year’s decision. The city has been trying to use use some 20 separate ordinances to clear locations that residents report as troublesome. Protesters have openly defied the city’s position on encampment removal.
“It’s become a challenge,” Gallo says of being caught between offering help and dealing with issues of drugs and unsafe or unsanitary conditions. “Legally, we’re always in court in terms of clearing the encampments.”
So now, the court will decide whether to review this question and cities across the country will be watching.
“If we keep moving people from place to place, nothing will change,” Friedenbach said.
“Oh, it will have a great impact on every city in the country,” Gallo says of a potential Supreme Court ruling on the matter.
Court watchers say an announcement could come as soon as Monday.