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New York Times Chronicles Rising Tide of Homeless Encampments in Western U.S.

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In a Jan. 9 article titled "Rights Battles Emerge in Cities Where Homelessness Can Be a Crime," The New York Times chronicled a dilemma that Boiseans know all too well. The Times reported a growing number of homeless encampments, similar to the former tent city in Boise that became known as "Cooper Court," have "led to civic soul-searching in cities around the country."

In its story, The Times pointed to a 2015 letter to Boise officials from the U.S. Department of Justice warning that "laws criminalizing homelessness could violate the Constitution's protections against cruel and unusual punishment." City officials pushed back against the letter, stating the DOJ was incorrect in calling Boise's anti-camping ordinance poor public policy. City officials insisted Boise police officers were prohibited from ticketing homeless individuals for "camping" on city streets when shelters were full—a "rare" occurrence, they said at the time.

The Times reported a number of homeless advocates have expressed growing concern, worried about how homeless encampments "might fare under President-elect Donald Trump, who ran as a law and order candidate."

"We're quite concerned," Maria Foscarinis, executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, told The Times, estimating half of major American cities had some kind of anti-camping law.

"No sooner do you win the battle than 10 other cities pop up, criminalizing homelessness," she said.

In November 2016, Seattle homeless advocate and Boise native Sara Rankin ripped the city of Boise's anti-camping ordinance, even though it was amended to make it enforceable only when shelters have room to spare.

"It's still a bad law," she said.

According to The Times, homeless encampments "have become a particularly acute problem" in the western U.S., "where soaring housing costs and a scarcity of subsidized apartments have pushed homelessness to the fore."

—George Prentice

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