• La Raza Pre-Law Student Association

4/9 - Should the Homeless be subject to criminalization?

Source: KABC 7 Los Angeles


Last week in the City of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) cracked down on the homeless encampment in the neighborhood of Echo Park. The LAPD gave the homeless living in the park until 10 pm to evacuate the site because, according to the LAPD, the city needed to make repairs. People who protested the removal of the homeless population in L.A. stated that the removal was unlawful and that the city is not doing actual solutions such as permanent housing. While the City of L.A. praised the operation, the LAPD response was violent as police officers shot protesters, and even a photojournalist was shot. The LAPD response towards the homeless is not the only one; there have been cities or states who have attempted to criminalize the homeless population in both blue and red states.

Cases relating to the Homeless:

The first significant case that made it into the U.S. courts was in the Bell v. Boise case. The case had to do with a man from Boise, Idaho, who was homeless and could not sleep on the streets because of a city ordinance that banned the "use [of] any . . . streets, sidewalks, parks or public places as a camping place at any time." In 2009, Bell and other homeless residents from Boise sued the city of Boise, citing grounds that the ordinance violates the eighth amendment. At first, the U.S. District Court of Idaho ruled in favor of Boise, citing grounds that the plaintiffs did not bring their case in an Idaho court first, and the ordinance was constitutional. However, in 2013, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court reversed the District Court of Idaho's decision, justifying that the Boise ordinance laws were "cruel and unusual" and that the constitution does not permit to prosecute people to be homeless if there is no shelter. Another similar case was Martin v. Boise. Like the Bell case, the 9th Circuit court ruled that the ordinance laws were unconstitutional for the same reasons as the Bell case. The city of Boise and other major cities of the U.S. (including Los Angeles) wrote a writ of certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court to review the decision from the 9th circuit; however, the Supreme Court declined to look over the case. Time after time, the courts have consistently sided over the cities.


Based on the facts and the precedent cases relating to the homeless, I do not believe that cities can criminally prosecute homeless people just because they do not have a roof over their heads. The first reason why cities should not criminally prosecute homeless people is that it would increase local budgets and put a burden on the prison system. Another reason is that criminalizing them will continue with the cycle that never ends. If Homeless people are cited, that could affect their employment and housing opinions since a felony or a misdemeanor limits people who can work or access housing. While I understand that cities have a compelling interest in public safety, there are ways to get the homeless out of the streets without violating the constitution. For example, cities could collaborate with state governments to provide permanent housing for the homeless and also have a program for the homeless to apply for jobs. Also, our mental health system is less accessible for people who do not have money, especially those who want to become drug-free. Homelessness is not just a democrat problem; it is also present in Republican-led states. We should stop playing the blame game; we should work with each other on homelessness and doing so without violating the constitution.


  1. Everyone At Echo Park Lake Has Been Offered Shelter, Says LA Homeless Services. But It's Complicated

  2. Echo Park Lake: Tall fences and no more homeless camps. Where are the former residents now?.

  3. 'It stood out to me as egregious': Protesters, others allege LAPD violence at Echo Park sweep.

  4. BELL v. CITY OF BOISE | FindLaw

  5. Supreme Court Won't Revive Law Barring Homeless People From Sleeping Outdoors (Published 2019)

  6. At What Cost: The Minimum Cost of Criminalizing Homelessness in Seattle and Spokane

  7. Martin v. City of Boise will ensure the spread of encampments that threaten public health and safety.

  8. Being Homeless is Not a Crime

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