SCOTUS decision clears a path forward

Now let’s get down to figuring out how to truly address the homeless crisis

Viewers of local TV news may have seen reports about protests and counter-protests in Chico, Redding and around the nation Tuesday night (Dec. 17), the eve of the House of Representatives’ vote on whether to impeach the embattled president of the United States related to his assaults on democracy and national security.

During the demonstration at City Plaza here in the City of Trees, those in favor of giving Donald Trump the boot far outnumbered his supporters. There was a bit of drama in the city center that evening—a few minor skirmishes as tensions rose ahead of the historic vote—that overshadowed another protest on the steps of the City Council chambers related to local matters.

That’s too bad. It was an important one meant to shed light on the city’s inhumane treatment of the local homeless population in recent years—particularly the Chico Police Department’s efforts to roust folks on the streets, based on policy adopted by previous incarnations of the council.

We’re referring to the so-called sit/lie and Offenses Against Public Property ordinances—controversial local laws that homeless helpers, civil rights activists and this newspaper long have criticized as being unconstitutional. Both were codified on the premise that they were “tools” for law enforcement to address vagrancy, camping, illicit drug use, littering, public urination and other issues associated with homelessness. However, in practice they criminalize homelessness.

Those policies likely will be amended or pulled from city code in the near future. That’s according to a story in this week’s issue (see “Protest success,” page 8).

The impetus for that action: the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision earlier this week to refuse to hear a challenge of Martin v. Boise, a precedent-setting case out of Idaho, in which a federal appeals court placed restrictions on that city’s efforts to crack down on homeless encampments. The lower court determined that prosecuting people who have no other place to sleep at night is a violation of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

To be sure, this is a turning point for cities throughout the West. Ordinances such as Chico’s have always been the path of least resistance—efforts that were never going to make headway on addressing this crisis. Now that these practices can’t continue, it’s time to turn the focus toward real solutions—affordable housing and shelters, chief among them.

We’re looking forward to the long-overdue discussions on that front.