The Legal Case Saying Homeless can Camp in Public: Update

This story from Sacramento News & Review updates the current state (as of a few days ago anyway) of the recent case.

An excerpt.

The city of Sacramento seems intent on going down with the ship when it comes to its anti-camping ordinance—and it could create an environment where getting a ticket for sleeping outside comes down to a homeless person’s luck that day.

On September 4, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that an anti-camping ordinance in the city of Boise is unconstitutional to enforce when no other adequate sleeping options, such as shelter beds, are available. The three-judge panel’s decision in Robert Martin v. The City of Boise immediately forced local governments across the court’s northwest region to reassess the laws they created to push homelessness out of public view.

The city of Stockton quickly ceased enforcing its homeless anti-camping ordinance, while Sacramento County officials ordered their park rangers to stop citing homeless campers along the American River Parkway, which came as an unpleasant surprise to county supervisors.

“As soon as I found out about the ruling, I suggested our board meet to discuss its implications, especially for my constituents who rightfully demand a clean and safe Parkway,” Supervisor Phil Serna, whose district includes the parkway, said in a statement. “I have many questions, including why County Counsel advised that park rangers not enforce the illegal camping ordinance without notifying or coordinating with board members.”

In her own statement, Susan Peters, chair of the Board of Supervisors, called the Ninth Circuit ruling “devastating news.”

From January through August, park rangers issued 1,834 citations for unlawful camping under the county ordinance, and 224 citations under the city’s. While park rangers aren’t, for the moment, ticketing homeless campers, some of their law enforcement counterparts will continue to do so. The city of Boise appealed last month’s ruling to have it reheard before the entire Ninth Circuit. Sacramento City Attorney Susana Alcala Wood said her office has decided against rescinding enforcement of its anti-camping ordinance until the outcome of that appeal is known.

“The City of Sacramento’s unlawful-camping ordinance remains legally valid and in effect and any enforcement activity will continue to be in compliance with federal, state and local law,” Alcala Wood wrote in an email to SN&R.

That stance isn’t unusual for a city that has fought vigorously to defend its ability to ticket homeless people who congregate outside. Following an eight-year legal journey, a Sacramento County jury last year upheld the city’s anti-camping ordinance over a civil challenge arguing that it was only enforced against homeless people. Mark Merin, a local civil rights attorney who was behind that challenge, said the city’s refusal to let go of its ordinance was characteristic.

Retrieved October 4, 2018 from


About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
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