canada africa partner reservation The Supreme Court could give Brockton the power to ban homeless encampments

The Supreme Court could give Brockton the power to ban homeless encampments

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BROCKTON – The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule in late June in a case that will impact how cities across the United States can regulate homeless encampments – including Brockton.

On Monday, April 22, the justices heard oral arguments in an Oregon case on whether enforcement of laws banning homeless people from sleeping on public property constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, which is prohibited by the Eighth Amendment.

Current precedent prevents cities from imposing criminal restrictions on public camping unless the person has access to adequate temporary shelter.

“The city follows the law. We are not allowed to forcibly remove people from public spaces,” Mayor Robert Sullivan said in a statement.

Here’s what you need to know about the Supreme Court case that could change that.

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The Oregon case that could change things in Brockton

City of Grants Pass, Oregon v. Johnson centers on two homeless people in Grants Pass, Oregon, who have filed a lawsuit against the city, claiming that its policies against public sleeping, public camping, and park exclusion ordinances violate the Eighth Amendment’s cruel and unusual punishment clause.

The Ninth Circuit court ultimately sided with the homeless by expanding the precedent that had been decided City of Boise, Idaho v. Martin in 2019, which bars cities from imposing criminal restrictions on public camping unless the person has access to adequate temporary shelters — ultimately declaring that the city cannot punish people who sleep on public property without opening more inclusive and accessible shelters.

In response, the city challenged current legal precedent, calling the 2019 decision a “legal roadblock that prevents a comprehensive response to the growth of public encampments,” according to the city’s appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court in August 2023.

The Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling by the end of its term on June 30.

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How could the Oregon case impact Brockton?

“It will tell us once and for all what restrictions, if any, we can place on homeless people who decide to live on municipal property,” said Brockton City Councilman Winthrop Farwell Jr.

“But if we don’t do anything, and if unfortunately the decision comes that there should be no more restrictions, I’m really concerned about the trajectory we’re on and whether that can be sustained,” Farwell said.

“Someone could literally go to City Hall, pitch a tent on the front lawn and under current federal law, unless you have a place to stay, you can’t tell them to leave,” Farwell said.

But if the Supreme Court uses City of Grants Pass, Oregon v. Johnson to overturn the prevailing precedent from the 2019 Idaho case could change that.

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What is Brockton doing about its homeless encampments?

While the city is not allowed to forcibly remove people from public spaces, Jazmine Bradsher, Brockton’s social services director, often goes out to talk to unsheltered people in an effort to get them into temporary housing.

“The social services team has been to the DW Field Park camp to assess the situation and monitor individuals on site,” Bradsher said.

“We do provide assistance to prevent the sites from becoming dangerous to residents and visitors to the park,” she said. “We have had crews cleaning the site over the past few days and will continue to monitor the situation and address any issues that arise.”

Whether or not the lawsuit changes, Sullivan says their ultimate goal is to house people.

“It’s a complicated situation that requires a deliberate, concerted, long-term plan,” Sullivan said.

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How many unsheltered homeless people currently live in Massachusetts?

Massachusetts has one of the lowest rates of unsheltered homeless people in any state, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s 2023 Annual Homelessness Assessment Report (AHAR).

Of the 19,141 people experiencing homelessness in Massachusetts in 2023, 1,362 – or 7.1% of the homeless population – were unsheltered, according to the AHAR. By comparison, in California, 68% of homeless people were unsheltered in 2023.

However, according to the AHAR, Massachusetts was also among the top five states with the largest increases in homelessness – with a 23.4% increase in the homeless population between 2022 and 2023 and a 26.5% increase between 2007 and 2023.

As a state, Massachusetts’ homeless population growth was similar to California’s, which saw a 30.5% increase between 2007 and 2023.

Homeless encampments in Brockton ‘negatively impact businesses, residential areas and open green space’

According to Farwell, the waste generated by these encampments has become a major problem in Brockton.

“Not only do you have trash and trash, but you also have human waste to worry about. As you can see from the photos of DW Field Park, it’s not good to have all that trash up there, which is situation changes completely.” ecology and the nature of the park,” he said.

“DW Field Park was intended to be an open green space, not a communal living space for people.”

There have also been problems, Farwell says, with homeless people sleeping outside businesses.

“As it starts to have a negative impact on businesses, residential areas and open green spaces, where we are getting more and more waste, I think many of us are just praying that the Supreme Court comes up with the right decision if there is a problem. balance between helping people, but also being able to control where they live,” he said.

Homeless people in DW Field Park say shelter is not an option

A resident of the homeless encampment at DW Field Park, who asked not to be named because of the retaliation, told The Enterprise that she came to live in the park after her disability benefits were cut by more than $300 a month last year.

“When I was 28, I was riding my bike and was hit by a car. I was in a coma for more than two weeks and in the hospital for a month,” she says.

Now she says she has permanent brain damage and struggles with substance abuse, which keeps her from working.

When asked why she couldn’t get into one of Brockton’s shelters, she held up one of her cats, named Panther.

“The shelters don’t take in animals and I can’t just leave them behind,” she said. “I’m also safer here than at the shelter,” she said, citing theft, mold and vermin. “We look out for each other here.”

How many shelters are there in Brockton?

Father Bill’s MainSpring shelter is the only state-funded shelter where Brockton’s homeless can find a bed in the city.

With 124 beds and another 40 overflow mats, the shelter is often full, although no one is ever sent away.

“We serve about 150 people per night. We regularly serve more people than we have beds,” said Jon Lanham, Chief Operating Officer of Father Bill. “We’re trying to get a high-needs population into the building every night and we want to make sure everyone feels safe coming in.”

When the beds and mats are full, the complex’s dining room can be turned into a warming center, said Patrick Ronan, community relations director for Father Bill. This allows individuals to have a safe, warm place to stay when the shelter is full.

The shelter is run 24/7 by a team made up of unarmed security personnel who work evening and night shifts, Lanham said.

“We started doing that about a year ago, mainly because we were seeing disturbing things happening late at night in the community, like on North Main Street. It was really more about keeping the building safe from the outside,” said he. .

In addition to security staff, the shelter has cameras in the building and staff are expected to make regular rounds to address any safety issues, Lanham said.

“We have lockers that people can use for their medications or work tools and things like that, that can be locked at night,” he said. “And if someone loses an item, we always try to support them in replacing it if we can.”

What are the rules at Father Bill’s?

While it is true that pets, other than service animals, are not allowed in the shelter, there is no sobriety requirement for entry. According to Ronan, guests will not be subject to a drug test or breathalyzer as a condition of stay, but alcohol and drugs are not permitted on the property.