Boise Homeless Case Dismissed, What Happens Next?

Oct 2, 2015

City of Boise officials says they're pleased that a judge decided this week to dismiss a lawsuit over a homeless camping ordinance. Bell v. City of Boise has been in the courts since it was filed in 2009.

At issue was a law that said the city could cite people sleeping outside. After the suit was filed, the city changed the law to say citations could only be issued if homeless shelters had empty beds.

Sara Rankin directs the Homeless Rights Advocacy Project at Seattle University’s School of Law. She says the case may have been dismissed, but the issue of homeless people in downtown Boise has not been resolved.

A tent city has popped up downtown, where homeless people are camping along a public alley. A city spokesman says that situation is “unsustainable,” and the city is working on the “next steps.”

Rankin says Boise needs to be extremely careful with its next moves. She says if Boise tries to clear out the tent city, it could run into constitutional and logistical problems.

“Where is the city going to move them? How is the city going to move them? What are they going to do with all of these individuals is a huge question. It’s not going to be an easy issue for the city to handle from a legal standpoint,” Rankin says.

She’s been watching the Bell v. City of Boise case closely. She said other cities should be careful about using the outcome of this case when making their own laws about homelessness.

“Cities would be very ill-advised to interpret the Bell v. Boise case as carte blanche to enact broad anti-camping ordinances. The reason for that is the decision in Bell v. Boise was not rendered on the merits.”

Rankin says the court did not look at the law and apply it to a certain set of facts, but rather dismissed on standing. The judge didn’t say whether it was a good or bad law.

“The court basically said, look, your claims are too speculative because you haven’t been cited under this law yet as opposed to actually determining the constitutionality of the law itself.”

She says the dismissal should not embolden cities to enact restrictive laws.

Mayor Dave Bieter says the city wants to protect the health and safety of all residents, while working with partners on the next steps for Boise’s most “vulnerable residents.”

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