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Supreme Court hears oral arguments in first case involving homelessness for the first time in decades



Cedar Rapids, Iowa – On Monday, while the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of Grants Pass v. Johnson, hundreds of activists for the homeless staged a demonstration outside the court.

Whether it is acceptable for towns to penalize homeless people for sleeping outside when there isn’t enough shelter is up to the Justices to determine. The reason for this is that the 9th District Court found that the penalty was cruel and unusual in violation of the 8th Amendment.

“The solution isn’t ever going to be arresting them,” said National Alliance to End Homelessness CEO Ann Oliva.

Not just the Western region of the US is seeing an increase in the number of homeless people. The number of street homeless people in Cedar Rapids increased from 107 in 2023 to 123 in January of this year. Ordinances in Cedar Rapids and Dubuque similarly limit the areas in which homeless people are permitted to camp.

“People experiencing homelessness are human beings,” said Oliva. “They are veterans, they are families with kids, they are survivors of domestic violence.”

Grants Pass is represented by lawyer Theane Evangelis. She told the Supreme Court that it was risky to prohibit local ordinances since camping in large numbers puts individuals at risk for assault, theft, and other crimes. They also run the risk of being struck by cars. She noted that the homeless individual has been handcuffed by the District Court’s decision that the city’s policy violates their rights under the Eighth Amendment.

“It’s unable to rely on these basic ordinances,” she said. “The 9th Circuit’s decisions give cities like Grants Pass no guidance about how it can navigate this very challenging area.”

The Justices clarified that everyone, whether or whether they possess a home, needs to sleep.

“Where do we put them if every city, every village, every town, lacks compassion and passes a law identical to this, where are they supposed to go,” said Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

Several judges questioned if the judiciary ought to get involved in local policy. According to Oliva, a certain policy is harming residents in Grants Pass and could have repercussions in all US cities.

“If you were fined $290 like they are in Grants Pass, there’s no way you are going to be able to pay it,” she said. “The police know you aren’t going to be able to pay it, and those things rack up.

By June of this year, the court is supposed to make a decision.