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New York Times: Feds to Steer Assistance Away From Cities That Criminalize Homelessness 

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  • Boise Weekly


In a story examining multiple American cities' attempts to control where people, particularly the homeless, can sit or sleep, the New York Times visits Boise's struggles with the issue.

In "Aloha and Welcome to Paradise. Unless You're Homeless," Times reporter Adam Nagourney writes about how Honolulu is one of many cities that "effectively criminalize homelessness" with a "battery of laws." According to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, at the end of 2014, 100 cities made it a crime to sit on a sidewalk, a 43 percent increase over 2011. The number of cities that ban sleeping in cars jumped from 37 to 81 in the same time period. 

In the article, Nagourney points to Aug. 2015, when the U.S. Department of Justice weighed in on a legal dispute over Boise's ordinance that prohibits sleeping in public places, arguing how in instances when shelter accommodations are unavailable, it is unconstitutional to criminalize sleeping in public. Ultimately, a federal judge tossed out a lawsuit challenging the city's ordinance, saying there was no known citation of a homeless individual being ticketed for camping or sleeping when he or she was unable to secure shelter. City officials agreed law enforcement should issue any citations if there indeed was no room at a city shelter.

Nonetheless, federal officials say such ordinances are a troubling trend. Department of Justice Principal Deputy Assistant General Vanita Gupta told the Times, "Punishing someone for sleeping in a public place would basically be punishing someone for being homeless."

Additionally, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development "announced this year it would steer homeless assistance funds away from cities that use various prohibitions it says make homelessness illegal," writes Nagourney.

"We are strongly against such measures," Matthew Doherty, executive director of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, told the Times.
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