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U.S. Supreme Court Stance On Boise Case Could Influence Grants Pass Homelessness Suit

On Monday the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a case based in Boise, Idaho. It focused on whether the city can ticket homeless people for sleeping in public. The case could have repercussions for a similar lawsuit in Grants Pass, Oregon.

When the Supreme Court decided not to hear the Idaho case, it upheld a lower court ruling from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. According to the lower court, laws that criminalize people for sleeping in public places are unconstitutional if the individuals don’t have other housing options.

The City of Grants Pass is currently being sued by the Oregon Law Center, an organization that provides legal help to low-income people. They say the city’s laws systematically criminalize homelessness in Grants Pass. The lawsuit details a series of camping citations against Debra Blake, a homeless woman listed as a plaintiff in the case.

The Boise decision could have implications for many cities with homeless ordinances in place, according to Ed Johnson, the director of litigation at the Oregon Law Center.

“What they can’t do is say ‘There’s nowhere where you’re allowed to keep yourself warm at night in a sleeping bag at all; at any time.’ They can’t do that unless they have enough shelter beds to potentially house their entire homeless population,” Johnson said.

There are approximately 1754 people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness in Josephine County, according to the case complaint.

The sole shelter in Grants Pass is the Gospel Rescue Mission. It houses 78 men and has 60 women and children, according to Brian Bouteller, the director of resident services at Gospel Rescue Mission. Bouteller says the mission is rarely full.

But according to the lawsuit, specific rules at the religious mission exclude large numbers of potential clients. The Gospel Rescue Mission requires clients to attend chapel and quit addictive substances including alcohol and tobacco as a condition of their stay.

Attorneys currently representing Grants Pass did not provide a statement reacting to the Supreme Court’s stance on the Boise case.

Copyright 2019 Jefferson Public Radio

Erik Neumann is a radio producer and writer. A native of the Pacific Northwest, his work has appeared on public radio stations and in magazines along the West Coast. He received his Bachelor's Degree in geography from the University of Washington and a Master's in Journalism from UC Berkeley. Besides working at KUER, he enjoys being outside in just about every way possible.
Erik Neumann
Erik Neumann is an experienced radio producer and reporter who grew up alongside the Puget Sound. He's passionate about telling the human stories behind America's health care system, public lands and the environment, and the arts. He got his Masters degree at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. Erik joined JPR after several years as a staff reporter at KUER, the NPR station in Salt Lake City, where he focused on health care coverage. He was a 2019 Mountain West fellow with the Association of Health Care Journalists and is a contributor at Kaiser Health News, a non-profit news service committed to in-depth coverage of health care policy and politics.