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Homeless Persons Cannot Be Punished for Sleeping in Absence of Alternatives, 9th Circuit Decision Establishes

NNPA NEWSWIRE — Judge Berzon, in her opinion, notes that the decision, while important, is unlikely to impose dire consequences on cities. “The distressing homelessness problem…has grown into a crisis for many reasons, among them the cost of housing, the drying up of affordable care for people with mental illness, and the failure to provide adequate treatment for drug addiction. The crisis continued to burgeon while ordinances forbidding sleeping in public were on the books and sometimes enforced.”

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National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, NNPA Newswire Contributor

People experiencing unsheltered homelessness in the west coast states of the Ninth Circuit can sleep more safely, without facing criminal punishment for simply trying to survive on the streets. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected an en banc petition by the city of Boise in Martin v. Boise (formerly Bell v. Boise), leaving in place its September 2018 ruling that homeless persons cannot be punished for sleeping outside on public property in the absence of adequate alternatives. In so holding, the court of appeals permitted the homeless individuals who have received criminal citations under Boise’s policy to proceed with their constitutional claims against the City. The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, which filed the case in 2009 with co-counsel Idaho Legal Aid Services and Latham & Watkins LLP, hails this decision as being essential to encouraging cities to propose constructive alternatives to homelessness.

“Criminally punishing homeless people for sleeping on the street when they have nowhere else to go is inhumane, and we applaud the Court for ruling that it is also unconstitutional,” said Maria Foscarinis, executive director at the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty. “It’s time for Boise to stop trying to hide its homelessness problem with unconstitutional ordinances, and start proposing real solutions.”

The case challenges Boise’s enforcement of its Camping and Disorderly Conduct Ordinances against persons experiencing homelessness who need to sleep in public in the absence of adequate housing or shelter.  Last September, a panel of the Ninth Circuit agreed with the central premise in the suit, holding that “as long as there is no option of sleeping indoors, the government cannot criminalize indigent, homeless people for sleeping outdoors, on public property, on the false premise they had a choice in the matter.” Following that ruling, the city of Boise petitioned the Ninth Circuit to rehear the case en banc. Today, the court rejected that request, thereby affirming that within the western states that make up the Ninth Circuit, “the Eighth Amendment preclude[s] the enforcement of a statute prohibiting sleeping outside against homeless individuals with no access to alternative shelter.”

“Today, the court says that people experiencing homelessness cannot be punished for sleeping or sheltering on the streets in the absence of alternatives,” said Eric Tars, Legal Director at the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty. “But our hope is that tomorrow, cities will begin to create those alternatives—getting homeless people into housing is a win-win approach, benefitting both the individuals helped and the communities that no longer have to deal with the negative impacts of people living in public spaces, at lower cost than cycling people through the criminal justice system.”

The case gained national attention in 2015 when the United States Department of Justice filed a Statement of Interest brief in the case, arguing that making it a crime for people who are homeless to sleep in public places unconstitutionally punishes them for being homeless.

“The outcome of Court’s decision will support cities who are addressing real solutions to the complex issues faced by homeless individuals and families rather than just create more barriers and fill more jails with persons who only needed a place to sleep for the night,” said Howard Belodoff, of Idaho Legal Aid Services, Inc. “Boise can be one of those cities—it has the resources, it just needs to apply them correctly.”

Judge Berzon, in her opinion, notes that the decision, while important, is unlikely to impose dire consequences on cities. “The distressing homelessness problem…has grown into a crisis for many reasons, among them the cost of housing, the drying up of affordable care for people with mental illness, and the failure to provide adequate treatment for drug addiction. The crisis continued to burgeon while ordinances forbidding sleeping in public were on the books and sometimes enforced.”

“We are pleased that the Ninth Circuit held that the Constitution ‘prohibits the imposition of criminal penalties for sitting, sleeping, or lying outside on public property for homeless individuals who cannot obtain shelter,’” said Michael Bern, lead pro bono counsel from Latham & Watkins, who argued the case before the Ninth Circuit.  “As the Department of Justice recognized earlier in this case, ‘[c]riminalizing public sleeping in cities with insufficient housing and support for homeless individuals does not improve public safety outcomes or reduce the factors that contribute to homelessness.’ With today’s decision, we hope that cities can redirect their efforts to identifying meaningful and constitutional solutions to the problem of homelessness.”

This case is part of a nationwide movement against the criminalization of homelessness, spearheaded by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty and more than 850 groups and individuals who have endorsed the Housing Not Handcuffs Campaign.

The court’s decision can be read here.

The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty is the only national organization dedicated solely to using the power of the law to prevent and end homelessness. With the support of a large network of pro bono lawyers, we address the immediate and long-term needs of people who are homeless or at risk through outreach and training, advocacy, impact litigation, and public education. The Housing Not Handcuffs campaign is a project supported by the AmeriCorps VISTA program.

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Fighting an Unjust System, The Bail Project Helps People Get Out of Jail and Reunites Families

In addition to posting bail at no cost to the person or their family, The Bail Project works to connect its clients to social services and community resources based on an individual’s identified needs, including substance use treatment, mental health support, stable housing and employment.

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Adrienne Johnson, the regional director for The Bail Project, told NNPA’s Let It Be Known that the organization seeks to accomplish its mission one person at a time.
Adrienne Johnson, the regional director for The Bail Project, told NNPA’s Let It Be Known that the organization seeks to accomplish its mission one person at a time.

Hundreds of thousands of individuals locked up in jails almost daily — many find it challenging to pay bail

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
@StacyBrownMedia

As public support for criminal justice reform continues to build — and as the pandemic raises the stakes higher — advocates remain adamant that it’s more important than ever that the facts are straight, and everyone understands the bigger picture.

“The U.S. doesn’t have one ‘criminal justice system;’ instead, we have thousands of federal, state, local, and tribal systems,” Wendy Sawyer and Peter Wagner found in a study released by the nonprofit Prison Policy Initiative.

Together, these systems hold almost 2 million people in 1,566 state prisons, 102 federal prisons, 2,850 local jails, 1,510 juvenile correctional facilities, 186 immigration detention facilities, and 82 Indian country jails, as well as in military prisons, civil commitment centers, state psychiatric hospitals, and prisons in the U.S. territories,” the study authors said in a press release.

With hundreds of thousands of individuals locked up in jails almost daily, many find it challenging to pay bail.

Recognizing America’s ongoing mass incarceration problem and the difficulties families have in bailing out their loved ones, a new organization began in 2018 to offer some relief.

The Bail Project, a nationwide charitable fund for pretrial defendants, started with a vision of combating mass incarceration by disrupting the money bail system.

Adrienne Johnson, the regional director for The Bail Project, told NNPA’s Let It Be Known that the organization seeks to accomplish its mission one person at a time.

“We have a mission of doing exactly what we hope our criminal system would do: protect the presumption of innocence, reunite families, and challenge a system that we know can criminalize poverty,” Johnson stated.

“Our mission is to end cash bail and create a more just, equitable, and humane pretrial system,” she insisted.

Johnson said The Bronx Freedom Fund, at the time a new revolving bail fund that launched in New York, planted the seed for The Bail Project more than a decade ago.

“Because bail is returned at the end of a case, we can build a sustainable revolving fund where philanthropic dollars can be used several times per year, maximizing the impact of every contribution,” Johnson stated.

In addition to posting bail at no cost to the person or their family, The Bail Project works to connect its clients to social services and community resources based on an individual’s identified needs, including substance use treatment, mental health support, stable housing and employment.

Johnson noted that officials created cash bail to incentivize people to return to court.

Instead, she said, judges routinely set cash bail well beyond most people’s ability to afford it, resulting in thousands of legally innocent people incarcerated while they await court dates.

According to The Bail Project, Black Americans are disproportionately impacted by cash bail, and of all Black Americans in jail in the U.S., nearly half are from southern prisons.

“There is no way to do the work of advancing pretrial reform without addressing the harmful effects of cash bail in the South,” said Robin Steinberg, Founder, and CEO of The Bail Project.

“Cash bail fuels racial and economic disparities in our legal system, and we look forward to supporting the community in Greenville as we work to eliminate cash bail and put ourselves out of business.”

Since its launch, The Bail Project has stationed teams in more than 25 cities, posting bail for more than 18,000 people nationwide.

Johnson said the organization uses its national revolving bail fund, powered by individual donations, to pay bail.

The Bail Project has spent over $47 million on bail.

“When we post bail for a person, we post the full cash amount at court,” Johnson stated.

“Upon resolution of the case, the money returns to whoever posted. So, if I posted $5,000 to bail someone out, we then help the person get back to court and resolve the case,” she continued.

“The money then comes back to us, and we can use that money to help someone else. So, we recycle that.”

Johnson said eliminating cash bail and the need for bail funds remains the goal.

“It’s the just thing to do. It restores the presumption of innocence, and it restores families,” Johnson asserted.

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PRESS ROOM: EPA Administrator Regan to Join Leaders of Civil Rights, Environmental Justice Movement for Significant Announcement in Warren County, North Carolina

NNPA NEWSWIRE — U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Michael S. Regan will be joined by significant figures from the civil rights and environmental justice movements, including Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., president and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association and other participants from the original Warren County protests for the event.
The post PRESS ROOM: EPA Administrator Regan to Join Leaders of Civil Rights, Environmental Justice Movement for Significant Announcement in Warren County, North Carolina first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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Administrator to honor legacy of environmental justice and civil rights at event in Warren County, site of protests that launched the movement 40 years ago

WASHINGTON (September 22, 2022) – On Saturday, September 24, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Michael S. Regan will travel to Warren County, North Carolina to deliver remarks on EPA’s environmental justice and civil rights priorities and the progress we’ve achieved since the first protest and march that launched the movement 40 years ago this week. Administrator Regan will make a significant announcement on President Biden’s commitment to elevate environmental justice and civil rights enforcement at EPA and across the federal government and ensure the work to support our most vulnerable communities continues for years to come.

Administrator Regan will be joined by significant figures from the civil rights and environmental justice movements, including participants from the original Warren County protests for the event.

Who:
EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan
Congressman G. K. Butterfield (NC-01)
Environmental Justice and Civil Rights Leaders
Warren County residents and community leaders
Additional stakeholders

What: Remarks on EPA environmental justice and civil rights priorities and honoring the legacy of the environmental justice and civil rights movement
When: Saturday, September 24, 2022,
Doors Open: 11:30 AM ET
Program: 12:45 PM ET
;
Where: Warren County Courthouse
109 S Main Street
Warrenton, NC 27589
Livestream: A livestream of this event will be available at epa.gov/live.

The post PRESS ROOM: EPA Administrator Regan to Join Leaders of Civil Rights, Environmental Justice Movement for Significant Announcement in Warren County, North Carolina first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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September 26 | Governance at the Local Level | The Conversation with Al McFarlane

Join Al McFarlane (Host), Brenda Lyle-Gray (Co-Host) and Special Guest Co-Host Diana Hawkins, Executive Director for …
The post September 26 | Governance at the Local Level | The Conversation with Al McFarlane first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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Join Al McFarlane (Host), Brenda Lyle-Gray (Co-Host) and Special Guest Co-Host Diana Hawkins, Executive Director for …

The post September 26 | Governance at the Local Level | The Conversation with Al McFarlane first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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