U.S. Judge Rules Cities Cannot Fine People For Living Outside: “Let Us Not Forget That Homeless Individuals Are Citizens Just As Much As Those Fortunate Enough To Have Secure Living Space”

People who live outside can’t be fined says a U.S. judge.

Grants Pass, Oregon is joining  Boise, Idaho, in its new legal decision to no longer cite or fine people who live outside. Last month, U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark D. Clarke decided that the city of Grants Pass violated its homeless residents’ Eighth Amendment rights by banning them from parks without due process and citing them for sleeping outside, according to ABC News per The Oregonian/OregonLive.

The judge’s ruling was made based on the 2018 Martin v. City of Boise case that came to the conclusion that cities cannot make it illegal for people to sleep or rest outside without giving people sufficient indoor options, the outlet reports. Grants Pass City Attorney Mark Bartholomew said the city plans to appeal. The U.S. Supreme Court ignored the relevance of the Martin case, which promoted the conversation about overgrowing populations in cities and the lack of housing. The issue of resting and living outside has been a topic of conversation in Grants Pass for years, according to ABC News, with many saying law enforcement has made it impossible to live and rest outdoors.

One of those people is Debra Blake, who lost her job and her home 10 years ago and took to outside to live. On Sept. 11, 2019, Blake was cited for illegal camping and prohibited conduct for lying in her sleeping bag in a park. On that same day, she was cited for criminal trespass on city property, the outlet reports. The woman’s fines and tickets came out to $885, and the city also said she owes $5,000 in piled-up fines.

In his ruling on July 22, Clarke wrote that homeless people are citizens just like everyone else. “Let us not forget that homeless individuals are citizens just as much as those fortunate enough to have a secure living space,” he said. Ed Johnson, head of the Oregon Law Center, also added that fining an already homeless person who has no financial income is pointless and counterproductive. “Those activities are just unavoidable and tied up in the status of being unhoused,” Johnson said. He added that counties and cities can still make a decision on where and how people camp.

“I hope what cities take from it, they have a wide range of tools at their disposal, but the tools are not punishing people in their community who have no choice but to be living outside,” Johnson said.

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