Chambers Ask US High Court: Help Local Leaders Battle Homeless Crisis

The California Chamber of Commerce has joined the U.S., Arizona and Montana chambers, and Oregon Business and Industry in asking the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision that will otherwise prevent local leaders from addressing the needs of the unhoused and hurt businesses and their communities.

“Many of the collateral impacts of the homelessness crisis fall on local businesses,” the chambers point out in their friend-of-the-court brief filed this week. The case is City of Grants Pass, Oregon v. Gloria Johnson, et al.

Governor Gavin Newsom also filed a brief asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.


In 2019, the Ninth Circuit held that enforcing criminal restrictions on public camping violates the cruel and unusual punishment clause of the Eighth Amendment unless the target of enforcement has access to adequate temporary shelter. That ruling in Martin v. City of Boise resulted in cities throughout the Ninth Circuit finding themselves handcuffed when attempting to ameliorate the homelessness crisis.

Despite business owners’ efforts to improve the lives and well-being of their unhoused neighbors, businesses throughout the circuit bear the brunt of local governments’ inability to respond to the public health issues and criminal activity associated with burgeoning homeless encampments.

Employers have difficulty attracting and retaining employees, who have health and safety concerns about working near homeless encampments. Customers forgo patronizing businesses in such areas and business owners in once-vibrant commercial districts have faced the difficult choice of operating in dangerous conditions or shutting down.

In 2023, the Ninth Circuit extended its previous ruling to prevent enforcement of even generally applicable camping ordinances in the case of Johnson v. City of Grants Pass.

Impact on Business

The chambers’ brief points out that:

  • California accounts for 28% of unhoused individuals in the United States and 49% of all unsheltered people in the country.
  • Homeless encampments deter customers from patronizing and employees from working at businesses.
  • Violence, theft, drug use and other crimes associated with encampments adversely affect businesses.
  • Homeless encampments cause public health hazards that make it difficult for businesses to thrive.

The chambers argue that local governments need “leeway to apply sensible policies” to address the homelessness crisis and its collateral effects.

“The high rate of unsheltered homelessness in the Ninth Circuit, and local leaders’ inability to apply sensible policies to address the crisis, has created a perfect storm for the business community,” the brief states.

Citing numerous news reports of the work local businesses are doing to help their communities and the difficulties those businesses face, the brief comments: “The cumulative effect of violent crime, theft, and drug use connected to homeless encampments is devastating to businesses, especially to small businesses still recovering from the effects of the shutdowns during the pandemic.”

The numerous amicus briefs filed in support of the U.S. Supreme Court review of the case provide further evidence of the effects of the homelessness crisis on businesses throughout the Ninth Circuit.

As shown by those briefs, businesses, large and small, are doing their part to support their homeless neighbors and stand ready to partner with local leaders to assist with solutions that provide relief to both the homeless and the business community.

“But businesses cannot solve the problem alone,” the chambers’ brief comments. “State and local governments, must be empowered to tackle the homelessness crisis through sensible policies that protect the economic vibrancy of their communities.”

The U.S. high court’s intervention is needed “to prevent further damage to businesses and the economic vitality of communities throughout the Ninth Circuit,” the brief declares.

Staff Contact: Nicole Wasylkiw

The California Chamber of Commerce is the largest, broad-based business advocate to government in California, working at the state and federal levels to influence government actions affecting all California business. As a not-for-profit, we leverage our front-line knowledge of laws and regulations to provide affordable and easy-to-use compliance products and services.