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Department of Justice Says Boise 'Anti-Camping' Ordinance Targeting Homeless is 'Poor Public Policy'


  • Boise Weekly

: Aug. 6, 2015 7 p.m.

Saying that the "premise of the filing is incorrect," the city of Boise pushed back Thursday evening in the wake of the U.S. Department of Justice's statement of interest calling the city's anti camping ordinance "poor public policy."

"It is rare that our community's service providers have no capacity—typically only during extreme weather events. And when that does happen, city ordinance prohibits law enforcement officers from writing tickets," said Mike Journee, spokesman for Boise Mayor Dave Bieter. "Those officers keep close tabs on what service resources are available and, every opportunity they get, they encourage those experiencing homelessness to take advantage of those resources."

Journee added that Bieter continues to meet with representatives from the city's faith community, nonprofits, corporate and government leaders to "find next steps as a community on this very challenging issue."

ORIGINAL POST: Aug. 6, 2015 4 p.m.

The U.S. Department of Justice has weighed in on Boise's policy making it illegal to sleep on city streets.

In what is officially referred to as a statement of interest, the DOJ on Aug. 6 zeroed in on the lawsuit Bell vs. City of Boise, which was brought by a group of homeless individuals in 2009 and is still being litigated. 

Specifically, the statement criticized the city's anti-camping ordinance as "poor public policy" and a violation of the Eighth Amendment, particularly when there is insufficient shelter space.

"Sleeping is a life-sustaining activity," the DOJ wrote. "If a person literally has nowhere else to go, then enforcement of the anti-camping ordinance against that person criminalizes [him or] her for being homeless."

Boise's homeless population was hit with a wave of warnings and "no camping" citations in summer 2014 as the number of displaced people grew to record levels under the Boise Connector along Americana Boulevard.

The city's anti-camping ordinance, Section 9-10-02, states it is illegal to store "personal belongings ... using tents or other temporary structures for sleeping in an authorized area [streets, sidewalks, parks or public places]." Local attorney Howard Belodoff and Idaho Legal Aid sued Boise in 2009 on behalf of the city's homeless, arguing that the ordinance criminalizes homelessness.

Boise Anti-Camping Ordinance
Today, Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division and principal deputy assistant attorney general for the Department of Justice, said, "Needlessly pushing homeless individuals into the criminal justice system does nothing to break the cycle of poverty or prevent homelessness in the future. Instead it imposes further burdens on scarce judicial and correctional resources and it can have long-lasting and devastating effects on individuals' lives."

The Department of Justice, in its filing, said it did "not take a position on the factual accuracy of the plaintiffs' claims, but instead addresses the appropriate legal framework for analyzing their claims."

Meanwhile, city of Boise officials insist that an amendment to the city's anti-camping ordinance, makes it clear that the rule would not be enforced if there was no available overnight shelter. Boise police stated that 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.