Sleeping is not a crime

Last month, a federal court ruled that people experiencing homelessness cannot be punished for sleeping outside in the absence of adequate alternatives. The court found that enforcing outdoor sleeping bans violates the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The ruling explains, "as long as there is no option of sleeping indoors, 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 specified that not only must a bed be available, but it must be practically accessible — without religious or length-of-stay restrictions that could make it inaccessible to a given individual.

While this ruling specifically affects the 9th Circuit (which covers nine states, including California) it establishes an important legal precedent for the nation. And it reinforces what homeless service providers have known for a long time: The solution to homelessness is housing. It can't be solved with arrests, bans, or even just shelter alone.

This ruling is an opportunity for housing providers to demonstrate to their communities that homelessness is best addressed with low-barrier shelter, access to permanent housing, and connection to supportive services.

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