BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Homeless people sleeping in public in Boise, Idaho, will not be cited or arrested when no shelter is available under a settlement that ends a dozen years of litigation over the issue.
Under the agreement announced Monday by Mayor Lauren McLean’s office, the city also will make changes to ordinances that guide police citations for public sleeping and the city will further train officers.
The settlement will cost Boise about $1.8 million, including $1.3 million to create new overnight shelters or revamp existing shelters.
“The City of Boise is happy to have reached an agreement that advances our goal of putting those experiencing homelessness on a path to permanent housing and is consistent with the current city policy,” McLean said in a statement. “This agreement will deliver on a promise I made to the people of Boise that I would resolve this decade-long litigation we inherited.”
The ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, which includes Washington, inspired much discussion in smaller Washington cities where there is little shelter capacity. Seattle and many other big cities only bar camping in certain parks and at certain times on sidewalks, which side-steps the issues presented by Boise’s blanket citywide ordinances.
Leading Washington state Republican, Sen. Phil Fortunato, R-Auburn, introduced a bill this legislative session that would require every city with more than 50,000 people, and every county in the state, to operate at least one overnight emergency shelter — a dramatic change for many Washington cities. Fortunato’s bill would then make “unauthorized camping” a misdemeanor by state law, an attempt to allow those cities to penalize camping without running afoul of the Boise ruling.
Boise was initially sued in 2009 over its enforcement of an ordinance that banned people from sleeping in public places. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of six people who had been cited for violating the ordinance.
The appeals court ruled in September 2018 that Boise’s anti-camping ordinance was unconstitutional because sometimes homeless residents have no other available options. The city asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the ruling, but the court declined.
The ruling has applied across several Western states where cities are struggling with homelessness brought on by rising housing costs and income inequality.
“I am so happy and proud to see everyone’s hard work finally come together in such a way that will help so many people,” Pamela Hawkes Duke, one of the plaintiffs experiencing homelessness in Boise, said in the news release.
Seattle Times reporter Scott Greenstone contributed to this report.