The Municipality of Anchorage in Alaska has joined forces with over a dozen other cities and jurisdictions in an appeal to the US Supreme Court. The appeal is in response to two rulings by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit that have allowed homeless individuals to camp on public land when there is no alternative indoor shelter available. Anchorage is seeking greater latitude in enforcing bans on homeless camping and support for time and place restrictions. The Supreme Court previously declined to review the Martin v. Boise case in 2019, but criticism of the ruling has increased significantly, causing local governments to face threats of lawsuits and injunctions over their homelessness policies.
The current rulings by the 9th Circuit have been described as paralyzing by Mayor Dave Bronson, who argues that they limit the ability of local governments to address the severe homelessness crisis. The rulings prevent municipalities from penalizing homeless individuals by imposing fines or jail time when shelters are full. The appeal also focuses on the issue of what constitutes “camping” on public lands, leaving cities uncertain as to what actions they can take in relation to homeless encampments. The brief prepared by the International Municipal Lawyers Association argues that the rulings force local governments to choose between providing shelter or surrendering public lands to encampments, diverting resources away from long-term solutions such as permanent supportive housing.
While there is no guarantee that the Supreme Court will agree to review the case, Anchorage plans to abate several encampments in preparation for the winter season. The city hopes that new low-barrier shelter spaces and additional hotel rooms will be available to accommodate the homeless individuals currently living outdoors. The timeline for the court’s decision is uncertain, but for the time being, the 9th Circuit’s rulings remain in effect, and the Municipality of Anchorage is obligated not to violate the constitutional rights of unhoused individuals.
In conclusion, Anchorage’s decision to join other cities and jurisdictions in appealing to the US Supreme Court is a response to the controversial rulings by the 9th Circuit that protect the rights of homeless individuals to camp on public land when there are no available indoor shelters. The appeal seeks to give local governments more flexibility in enforcing bans on homeless camping and to establish clear parameters on what constitutes “reasonable” camping on public lands. While the rulings have faced criticism from various perspectives, there is no certainty as to whether the Supreme Court will review the case or how they will rule. In the meantime, Anchorage is grappling with the challenge of transitioning hundreds of individuals from outdoor encampments to winter shelter options.