Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Our broadcast signal KUQU (93.9) serving the St. George area is operating in low power mode. More info.
The Mountain West News Bureau is a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

It Isn't A Crime To Be Homeless In Boise, Court Says

A federal appeals court is siding with several homeless people in Boise who have sued the city for prosecuting them for sleeping outside.

The ruling from the 9 th Circuit Court of Appeals makes it clear: “… as long as there is no option of sleeping indoors, the government cannot criminalize indigent, homeless people for sleeping outdoors, on public property …”

Eric Tars, a lawyer with the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, worked on the case.

“Communities cannot use the criminal justice system to deal with their policy failure to address the need for housing and healthcare in their community,” Tars says.

Advocates like Tars are cheering the ruling. They interpret it to mean that homeless people who have been banned from shelters for not participating in religious programs can’t get fined for sleeping outside.  

“The court is saying it is cruel and unusual to punish somebody for something that they can’t avoid doing. You need to sleep and if you can’t do that in a private place, the city cannot punish you for doing it in a public place," Tars says.

The ruling could have broad implications. As of 2016, one-third of cities tracked by homeless advocates outlaw public camping and more than a quarter of them ban sleeping in public.

Boise officials say they’re reviewing the ruling. Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

Copyright 2018 Boise State Public Radio

Copyright 2020 Boise State Public Radio News. To see more, visit Boise State Public Radio News.

KUER is listener-supported public radio. Support this work by making a donation today.