Opinion: The cruel and unusual irony of homelessness

Seattle Homeless freeway overpass sleeping bag KOMO.jpg
A new court ruling strikes down a Boise, Idaho city ordinance that allowed police to arrest homeless people sleeping or camping on sidewalks and other public areas like parks. (photo: KOMO News).{ }

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals just ruled that its unconstitutional for police to arrest homeless people sleeping on sidewalks or public areas like parks under a Boise, Idaho city ordinance.

According to the Associated Press, the biggest issue was that the city’s rule violated the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment against cruel and unusual punishment, the court found. The amendment limits what the government can criminalize, it said.

The ruling also dealt with homeless shelters that proscribe religious beliefs for those in attendance and that would obviously have First Amendment infringements.

But the notion that arresting homeless people who are trespassing or loitering as cruel and unusual punishment creates a Pandora's Box of problems. It basically allows anyone to declare themselves homeless and behave as they wish on public sidewalks and parks. Staying for unlimited amounts of time. No public safety over-sight requiring them to leave the location. Checks and balances on the law completely disappear.

This dubious 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling comes at a time when KVI's Kirby Wilbur and KOMO News are both reporting on chronic homeless problems in Seattle's Lake City neighborhood where business are contending with a homeless woman who is chronically defecating in front of stores. The human waste problems of chronically homeless people have been spotlighted in cities across the Western U.S., like Seattle, San Francisco and Portland.

The disconnect remains that asking homeless people to take stock in their fate and their future is completely eliminated within the new ruling from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court case. It creates a moral hazard. The three-judge panel opens up the legal loophole to trespass and loiter which leads to the public health problem (as well as a slew of crime problems) of unabated urine and feces blanketing the property where you shop or live. Its now another unfunded mandate for property owners and business owners to clean. The irony is that arresting someone who is unable to control or take control of one's life by doing something--anything--to create safe housing for her or himself is cruel and unusual according to the court, but I think if you ask most Americans they'll tell you that cleaning up someone's chronic levels of human excrement is also cruel and unusual punishment.

Here's hoping that the case is appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court and a more coherent ruling is made regarding this Boise, Idaho ordinance. Otherwise the chronic homeless pooper may be on your street next.

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