The city of Boise insists it is rare local shelters are at capacity, therefore justifying its so-called "anti-camping ordinance," under which it tickets homeless individuals for sleeping on Boise streets. However, it didn't stop the U.S. Department of Justice from sending a warning to Boise on Aug. 6, saying "Criminally prosecuting those individuals for something as innocent as sleeping, when they have no safe, legal place to go, violates their constitutional rights."
In its so-called "statement of interest," the DOJ zeroed in on the lawsuit Bell vs. City of Boise, which was filed by a group of homeless individuals in 2009 and is still being litigated. Specifically, the DOJ statement criticized Boise's anti-camping ordinance as "poor public policy" and a violation of the Eighth Amendment, particularly when there is insufficient shelter space.
"Sleeping is a life-sustaining activity," the DOJ wrote. "If a person literally has nowhere else to go, then enforcement of the anti-camping ordinance against that person criminalizes [him or] her for being homeless."
Boise's homeless population was hit with a wave of warnings and "no camping" citations during summer 2014 as the number of displaced people grew to record levels under the Boise Connector along Americana Boulevard. The city's anti-camping ordinance, Section 9-10-02, states it is illegal to store "personal belongings ... using tents or other temporary structures for sleeping in an authorized area [streets, sidewalks, parks or public places]."
Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division and principal deputy assistant attorney general for the Department of Justice, said, "Needlessly pushing homeless individuals into the criminal justice system does nothing to break the cycle of poverty or prevent homelessness in the future. Instead it imposes further burdens ... and it can have long-lasting and devastating effects on individuals' lives."
City officials pushed back fast.
"The premise of the filing is incorrect," said Mike Journee, spokesman for Boise Mayor Dave Bieter. "Officers keep close tabs on what service resources are available and, every opportunity they get, they encourage those experiencing homelessness to take advantage of those resources."