published : 2023-09-24

California Governor Seeks Supreme Court Intervention on Homeless Encampments

Governor Newsom argues that court rulings have 'paralyzed' efforts to address homelessness

A photo of California Governor Gavin Newsom passionately speaking about the homelessness crisis, taken with a Nikon D850.

Democrat California Gov. Gavin Newsom has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene in a case he blames for having 'paralyzed' California officials in addressing homeless encampments.

In an amicus brief filing to grant review in the case of City of Grants Pass v. Johnson, Newsom urged the Supreme Court to clarify that state and local governments can take reasonable actions to address the homelessness crisis creating health and safety dangers to individuals living in encampments and communities.

A ruling in Grants Pass, Oregon, invalidating a local anti-camping ordinance that would have barred people from sleeping on public property was recently upheld in the Ninth Circuit.

These courts have stretched Martin’s reasonable limit into an unsurmountable roadblock, preventing cities and towns from imposing commonsense time and place restrictions to keep streets safe and to move those experiencing homelessness into shelter,' Newsom's amicus brief says.

California’s elected officials who seek in good faith to improve what often appears to be an intractable crisis have found themselves without options, forced to abandon efforts to make the spaces occupied by unhoused people safer.'

A close-up shot of a homeless encampment in California, highlighting the dire living conditions, taken with a Canon EOS R.

Our government officials are trapped, at risk of suit for taking action but also accountable for the consequences of inaction,' Newsom’s lawyers wrote.

As governor, Newsom has allocated 'more than $15 billion toward housing and homelessness and its root causes, and launched programs to reward local governments that reduce barriers to affordable housing while holding accountable those cities and counties that refuse to do their fair share to address the affordable housing crisis,' according to the filing, which also claims, 'The crisis of homelessness will never be solved without solving the crisis of housing, as the two issues are inextricably linked.'

Newsom’s office said restraining orders blocking anti-camping ordinances are granted 'not by policymakers or democratically elected officials, but federal judges.'

In San Francisco, for example, Newsom's amicus brief claims a 'collaborative' policy between local officials and police officers to clear and clean the most dangerous encampment within 24 to 72 hours was instead delayed by nine months when a court intervened.

The city was required first to evaluate whether there were enough shelter beds for each homeless person.

An aerial view of a city skyline, symbolizing the need for action on the housing crisis, taken with a Sony A7R III.

In Los Angeles, a district court said shelters must meet a long list of requirements, including for nursing staff, to test for communicable diseases and on-site security, before the city could enforce 'commonsense' anti-camping laws.

As California invests billions to address housing and homelessness, the courts have tied the hands of state and local governments that seek to use commonsense approaches to clean our streets and provide help for unhoused Californians living in inhumane conditions,' Newsom said in a statement, announcing the filing.

'While I agree with the basic principle that a city shouldn’t criminalize homeless individuals for sleeping outside when they have nowhere else to go within that city’s boundaries, courts continue to reach well beyond that narrow limit to block any number of reasonable efforts to protect homeless individuals and the broader public from the harms of uncontrolled encampments,' the governor added.

'It’s time for the courts to stop these confusing, impractical and costly rulings that only serve to worsen this humanitarian crisis.'