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Boise Lawmakers to Update 'Anti-Camping' Ordinance Targeting Homeless

"Sleep" is the operative word in Section 9-10-02 of the Boise City Code's anti-camping ordinance, which says it's illegal to store "personal belongings ... or other temporary structures for sleeping in an unauthorized area."

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At the height of 2014's summer heat, Boise Weekly chronicled how an increasing number of Boise's homeless were saddled with warnings and "no camping" citations as their numbers grew to record levels under the bridge of the Boise Connector along Americana Boulevard.

"I just got this a couple of days ago," William Smallwood told BW, holding up a police citation and explaining that he has been staying under the bridge for about a month. "The officer told me it's illegal to sleep here."

And "sleep" is the operative word in Section 9-10-02 of the Boise City Code's anti-camping ordinance, which says it's illegal to store "personal belongings ... or other temporary structures for sleeping in an unauthorized area" (i.e., streets, sidewalks, parks or public places).

But Boise attorney Howard Belodoff and Idaho Legal Aid sued the city in 2009, arguing that the ordinance criminalizes homelessness. 

"Listen to me: You can't be punished for doing a normal human thing, such as sleeping, in the city of Boise," Belodoff (using a bullhorn) told the gathered homeless.

And this coming week, the Boise City Council is expected to take up an amendment to the city's anti-camping ordinance. In particular, the ordinance will be updated to read that law enforcement will not be able to enforce the anti-camping law "when the individual is on public property and there is no available overnight shelter."

Boise Police say they regularly communicate with city shelters, such as the River of Life, City Light and Interfaith Sanctuary to see if there are beds available on any given night.

And the update to the ordinance also makes clear that "if the individual cannot utilize the overnight shelter space due to voluntary actions such as intoxication, drug use, unruly behavior or violation of shelter rules, the overnight shelter space shall still be considered available."

Simply put, if there are beds available, the homeless individual who is camped out on public property—even if they've been denied a space at a shelter because of behavior—can be ticketed in violation of the ordinance.

The Boise Council is expected to vote on the amended ordinance this coming Tuesday Sept. 23.


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