US Supreme Court to Hear Homeless Encampments Case on Monday

CalChamber Amicus Brief Argues that State
and Local Action Is Necessary to Preserve Economic Vitality of Communities

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear a case that could change the way local leaders address the needs of the unhoused and of the communities where they reside.

The case, City of Grants Pass, Oregon v. Gloria Johnson, et al., challenges the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in Martin v. City of Boise that 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.

The primary questions before the Supreme Court is whether the enforcement of generally applicable laws regulating camping on public property constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment” prohibited by the Eighth Amendment.

Last month, with many others, the California Chamber of Commerce; the U.S., Arizona and Montana chambers; and the Oregon Business and Industry filed a friend-of-the-court brief asking the Court to reverse the Ninth Circuit Court decision.

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

Martin v. City of Boise

The 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’s 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 unhoused neighbors and stand ready to partner with local leaders to assist with solutions that provide relief to both the unhoused 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