Newsom Supports Supreme Court Ruling On Homelessness, Advocates Disagree

California Gov. Gavin Newsom has expressed strong support for a recent Supreme Court decision permitting cities to prohibit homeless individuals from sleeping and camping in public areas. The 6-3 ruling, which overturned a lower court’s decision, has sparked a heated debate between government officials and homeless advocates.

The Supreme Court’s decision, penned by Justice Neil Gorsuch, emphasized the complexity of homelessness and the need for diverse public policy responses. Gorsuch wrote, “Homelessness is complex. Its causes are many. So may be the public policy responses required to address it. A handful of federal judges cannot begin to ‘match’ the collective wisdom the American people possess in deciding ‘how best to handle’ a pressing social question like homelessness.”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who authored the dissenting opinion, argued that criminalizing homelessness violates basic human rights. “Sleep is a biological necessity, not a crime,” Sotomayor stated. She condemned some city actions against the homeless as “unconscionable and unconstitutional.”

The National Homeless Law Center harshly criticized the ruling, asserting that it exacerbates the homeless crisis. “In a profoundly disappointing ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court today decided that the US Constitution does not protect homeless people against cruel and unusual punishment, even when they have no choice to sleep in public using things like blankets or pillows,” the organization declared. They argued that penalizing homeless individuals for survival tactics is “expensive, counterproductive, and cruel.”

Despite the backlash, Newsom sees the ruling as a tool for improving public safety and managing homeless encampments. He stated, “Today’s Supreme Court ruling in Grants Pass provides state and local officials the definitive authority to implement and enforce policies to clear unsafe homeless encampments and helps us deliver common-sense measures to protect the safety and well-being of our communities.”

San Francisco Mayor London Breed also welcomed the decision, suggesting it would allow the city to take stronger action against homeless encampments. Conversely, Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass, although also a Democrat, criticized the ruling. She admonished cities attempting to “arrest their way out of this problem or hide the homelessness crisis in neighboring cities or in jail.”

The ruling underscores a significant divide in approaches to addressing homelessness. While some officials view it as a necessary step to maintain public order, advocates fear it will further marginalize the homeless population, making it harder for them to access essential services and support.