Boise Decision Will Stand, Homeless Retain Right to Sleep on Public Property

A homeless man sits on a bench at the Malibu Colony Plaza.

On Monday, Dec. 16, the United States Supreme Court decided not to hear  Martin v. City of Boise, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals case from September 2018. The case protects the homeless’ right to sleep in public spaces if city governments have no other sleeping spaces available in local shelters. 

By refusing to hear Martin v. City of Boise, the Supreme Court maintains the status quo set by the ninth circuit’s decision. According to reporting by the LA Times, the decision was a victory for homeless activists, but city officials across the ninth circuit view it as a setback, arguing the case undercuts their authority to regulate homeless encampments in public spaces like parks and sidewalks. 

According to KBUU News, LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said the Boise decision has tied his hands on dealing with Malibu’s homeless population. 

Community Assistance Resource Team (CART) President Carol Moss agreed that the decision limits the sheriff and called it a “profound” decision for Malibu; the activist agreed that it “ties the sheriff’s hands, certainly.” Founded in 2015 in response to Malibu’s growing homeless population, CART is a nonprofit that works with the local homeless community and tries to connect them with available services.

“We want to protect the homeless—it’s a good decision for an impossible situation,” Moss said. 

In an effort to interpret  Martin v. City of Boise at the local level, one local city, the City of Thousand Oaks, amended its municipal code in June.

“These changes allow the city to align with higher laws established in the Boise case, while strengthening aspects that are still under local control in addressing this humanitarian crisis,” according to the City of Thousand Oaks’ website.

The Thousand Oaks ordinance amendment includes changes like restricting sleeping times from 10 p.m.-6 a.m., removing private property open to the public from the definition of public place, prohibiting camping throughout the city at all times and shortening the removal time of abandoned property from seven days to 72 hours. The amendment also prohibits someone from sleeping on city property in such a way that impedes vehicle or pedestrian traffic.

Moss said the Thousand Oaks amendment was too restrictive. She said a similar ordinance could not be enacted the same way in Malibu because camping is allowed in the city, on Zuma Beach and in the hills, for example. 

Moss described the Malibu homeless community as a good community with “only a few troublemakers.”

When it comes to working with the homeless community, Moss said, “We’re lucky we’re in such a small community because we can do quite a bit here.”

Town halls and forums on homelessness have not been able to take place in Malibu in 2019, Moss said, because the city spent the last year overwhelmed by the Woolsey Fire. 

She said she hoped in 2020 there will be more of an opportunity to schedule town halls that bring together Malibu residents, officials and members of the homeless population to find out how people feel through fruitful exchanges.