August 6, 2015 — The Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice issued a statement of interest on August 6, 2015, arguing that “making it a crime for people who are homeless to sleep in public places, when there is insufficient shelter space in a city, unconstitutionally punishes them for being homeless.” The DOJ press release about this statement has since been removed from their website, but the original Statement of Interest filing is available here: https://www.justice.gov/crt/file/761211/download
The DOJ filed the brief in a case from Idaho, Bell v. City of Boise et al., a case filed by homeless people in the city of Boise in 2009. That case is currently being appealed in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. If the Ninth Circuit agrees with the DOJ and finds that enforcing Boise’s anti-camping ordinance constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, the anti-camping ordinance in Boise would no longer be able to be enforced. Similar camping bans throughout the ninth circuit (Alaska, Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, and Arizona) could also be challenged under the precedent that would be established. Colorado lies in the 10th Circuit, which means the precedent would not be binding on our district courts here, but this would still be a significant victory for our nationwide fight to end the criminalization of homelessness.
In their brief, the Department of Justice wrote the following: “It should be uncontroversial that punishing conduct that is a universal and unavoidable consequence of being human violates the Eighth Amendment. . . Sleeping is a life-sustaining activity-i.e., it must occur at some time in some place. If a person literally has nowhere else to go, then enforcement of the anti-camping ordinance against that person criminalizes her for being homeless.”
This is the argument that FCHC members and other advocates have been making to the City of Fort Collins, and the foundation of the Right to Rest movement. This statement underscores the importance of the civil rights movement that we are involved in, and the importance of continuing to push for Colorado and other states to pass a Homeless Bill of Rights.