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Supreme Court hears arguments on homeless encampment bans

Oral arguments were heard on Monday April 22.
Posted at 11:21 PM, Apr 22, 2024

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — Fred Persaud slept in front of the Serving Seniors building in downtown San Diego for about a year. His time on the street was anything but easy.

“I’ve been sleeping right in front [of] this building as you go out the door right on your left,” Persaud said. And that’s what’s scary about being on the streets. You know, it’s just a matter of what’s going to happen next. You don’t know, and it’s like you expect the unexpected.”

He’s been volunteering at the non-profit and now is in housing, thanks to Serving Seniors.

“And they talk about how frightening it is to be on the street,” Paul Downey, CEO of Serving Seniors, said. “We see about a couple hundred seniors a day come through our doors who are actively experiencing homelessness. We run two transitional shelters.”

While their work continues here in San Diego, 3,000 miles away in Washington, D.C., the Supreme Court is weighing whether to overrule a lower appeals court’s decision tied to the unhoused in the City of Grants Pass Versus Johnson case.

“So, Grants Pass, Oregon passed an encampment ban which essentially made it illegal to sleep on the streets,” Downey said. “Ninth Circuit said it was cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment to have somebody who had no choice; saying you can’t sleep here when you don’t have any other option for them to go to be able to sleep.”

Serving Seniors joined in a brief filed with the Supreme Court in favor of upholding the lower court decision.

“If the Supreme Court overturns Grants Pass, it will allow cities to much more aggressively criminalize simply for being homeless,” Downey said.

The City of San Diego, which passed its encampment ban last June, joined a brief challenging the Lower Appeals Court’s ruling.

The San Diego City Attorney’s Office told ABC 10News in a statement in part, “The City’s unsafe camping ordinance complies with the 9th Circuit's ruling in the Grants Pass case and should not be impacted if the Supreme Court invalidates the Grants Pass ordinance.”

Adding the ban may look into any impact the ruling may have on the city’s ordinance once it comes down.

“So, the cities really want to know what are the rules and how, what can they do to deal with this problem,” Laura Halgren, a former San Diego Superior Court Judge, said.

She told ABC 10News people should expect the Supreme Court ruling by the end of June.

“If the Supreme Court overrules the Ninth Circuit and give more discretion to deal with the homelessness issue, the camping ordinance will still be in place. And, unless the city council modifies it in some fashion, it won’t change,” Halgren said.