Boise Wants to Take Camping Ordinance to Highest Court in the Country


The City of Boise has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case on its contentious camping ordinance following the decision from a federal court striking down the law.

According to a filing with the Supreme Court, the City of Boise contends that it has the right to prevent people from sleeping on public property. The Ninth Circuit Court found that Boise's law was against the Eighth Amendment, while the Department of Justice called it "poor public policy."

This stems back to 2009, when a group of homeless Boiseans contested the city's rules via civil rights attorneys. The legal battle has continued since the initial lawsuit, Bell v. City of Boise. While Bell v. City of Boise was dismissed in a 2015 ruling, the plaintiffs re-upped with a new case, Martin v. City of Boise.

According to the Supreme Court filing, the city is contesting the opinion that preventing people from sleeping on public property amounts to "cruel and unusual punishment." The circuit court opined that if there is insufficient indoor shelter space for homeless residents, criminalizing the use of public property is a violation of civil rights.

Boise has stood its ground, and even argued that the inability to enforce this ordinance is a public health and safety risk.

“If we are unable to deal with those kinds of encampments, we would be unable to stop the inherent public health and safety issues that come with them,”  said City Spokesman Mike Journee.

Journee said the city's position is twofold: First, if the city cannot enforce this law, it would impede on the city's ability to execute its responsibility of ensuring the welfare of its citizens. Second, it would curtail the city's ability to push homeless residents toward available services.

“That’s the reason we feel like it’s important to have this tool,” Journee said.

He pointed to a prior case when the alleyway behind Interfaith Sanctuary, Cooper Court, was used as an encampment. Journee said there were issues of drug use, sexual assault and one murder. Additionally, the alley is a fire lane, which was blocked by the encampment. These situations are, Journee said, "unhealthy and unsafe."

Journee added that Boise Police rarely issue these citations, and opt to direct residents toward other services first. Since 2014, the Boise City policy is to suspend this rule if shelters are full, which Journee said is rare. In 2017, six citations were issued. That number went up to 30 in 2018.