Dozens of Boise's homeless gather in the alley beside Interfaith Sanctuary every evening, waiting for the doors to open. While most of the people gathered there prefer a warm cot to a bedroll under a bridge, only one man told citydesk that Boise's anti-camping ordinance--which the city just stiffened in the face of a lawsuit--is good policy. Most said the city should let the homeless be.
"If people want to camp out, let 'em camp out," said Larry Grider, a retired construction worker who has been on the streets for a year and a half. "If I had the gear, I probably would."
The federal lawsuit, brought by Idaho Legal Aid Services Inc. on behalf of seven homeless men and women, argues that the Boise Police Department practice of ticketing homeless people for sleeping outside is unconstitutional.
"These people have nowhere else to sleep, and you're basically making them criminals," said Howard Belodoff, the attorney representing the homeless. "You can't criminalize behavior that is not really criminal--everybody has to sleep."
The city will file a response this week.
"There is no merit to their lawsuit and the city intends to vigorously defend the lawsuit," said Assistant City Attorney Valencia Bilyeu.
The lawsuit argues that since there are not enough shelter beds in Boise for 2,000 to 4,500 people on any given night, ticketing people for camping or for disorderly conduct means that homeless people are not able to stay in the city.
"Enforcement of these ordinances therefore serves the purpose and has the effect of driving homeless people out of the city or deterring them from entering city," the lawsuit states.
Soon after the lawsuit was filed, the Boise City Council unanimously passed a new definition of camping as, "use of public property as a temporary or permanent place of dwelling, lodging, or residence, or as a living accommodation at anytime between sunset and sunrise, or as a sojourn."
The resolution containing the new definition stated that camping in public parks and along the river negatively impacts other people's use of those amenities, but it specified that the anti-camping law not be enforced unconstitutionally, which Belodoff considers a nod to the pending lawsuit.
Belodoff said the new anti-camping definition does not affect the claims in the lawsuit.
Each of the Boise plaintiffs has been cited numerous times by Boise Police for camping in the city or for disorderly conduct, which includes sleeping in public.
Not only can't they afford the fines associated with these tickets, but the citations often constitute a criminal record and hinder their attempts to get housing and jobs.
"It's unconstitutional," said Jimmy Moore, a homeless man who testified against the City Council action on camping and who recently beat a camping ticket.
"You're giving tickets to homeless people that can't pay; you're going to crowd the jails with homeless people who are just sleeping."