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Advocacy Group Responds To Dismissal Of Boise Homeless Case

homeless, sign
Emilie Ritter Saunders
Boise State Public Radio

The City of Boise received some good legal news this week: U.S. District Court Judge Ronald E. Bush dismissed a lawsuit against the city Tuesday. The suit, Bell v. the City of Boise, was filed in 2009. The lawsuit alleges the city's camping ordinances criminalize homeless people, and challenged the laws' constitutionality under the Eighth Amendment.

According to a press release from the mayor's office, Judge Bush dismissed the case on the grounds that the ordinances are not being enforced when homeless shelters are full. He added that there "is no known citation of a homeless individual under the Ordinances for camping or sleeping on public property on any night or morning when he or she was unable to secure shelter due to a lack of shelter capacity.”

After the judge's dismissal, Mayor Dave Bieter released this statement:

“We agree with and are very pleased by the court’s decision to dismiss this lawsuit. Our efforts on behalf of those in our community who are experiencing homelessness are concrete. Now, with this case behind us, we will be able to better focus on creating positive gains against this challenging societal problem. Moving forward, the city of Boise’s priorities will continue to be protecting the health and safety of all residents, while working with our governmental, non-profit, corporate and faith-based partners on next steps toward long-term, holistic gains for our most vulnerable residents.” - Mayor Dave Bieter

Attorney Eric Tars says he’s disappointed and surprised by the dismissal. Tars is with the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, one of the groups that brought the suit on behalf of the plaintiffs. He says one of the reasons the judge dismissed the case is because all but two of the plaintiffs are no longer homeless, so they don’t have a fear of being arrested for camping in public.

But Tars says Boise’s anti-camping laws still have the potential to criminalize homeless people when shelters are full, and that would be a violation of the Eighth Amendment.

“For the city to be criminally punishing people for the basic life-sustaining act of sleep is criminalizing their status as a homeless person, which violates our protection against having cruel and unusual punishment.”

Tars says his organization is not alone in its concern, citing the Department of Justice statement this summer over potential Eighth Amendment violations. He says his organization may appeal the judge’s dismissal in the next 30 days.

Find reporter Frankie Barnhill on Twitter @FABarnhill

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