Supreme Court Denies Anti-Camping Law Review

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City officials say shelter shields Laguna from fallout of the decision

By Daniel Langhorne, Special to the Independent

Laguna Beach officials were disappointed to learn Monday the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review a federal appellate court’s decision that prohibits cities from enforcing anti-camping laws if they don’t have available shelter beds.

But unlike adjacent cities, Laguna Beach has the Alternative Sleeping Location operated by The Friendship Shelter that hosts up to 40 beds for individuals needing overnight stays. The shelter allows Laguna Beach police officers to enforce anti-camping rules on public property, which would otherwise be prohibited under Martin v. Boise.

“I’m not surprised by [the decision],” Mayor Pro Tem Steve Dicterow said. “Because we have the Alternative Sleeping Location, we’re in compliance with it so we go forward from there. I don’t think from a day-to-day basis that it will have that big of an impact.”

Friendship Shelter executive director Dawn Price said, because of the ASL, Laguna Beach won’t see much fallout from the high court’s decision to let stand the Ninth Circuit Court’s controversial decision in Martin v. Boise, which held cities can’t tell people to move on from sleeping on sidewalks, parks or beaches if they don’t have a shelter with available beds.

“Martin provides clarity,” she said. “Hopefully, we can move forward with that clarity.”

Friendship Shelter recently leased a 17-unit apartment building in San Clemente it plans to use for permanent supportive housing for formerly homeless individuals living in South Orange County.

“We don’t want to see homeless criminalized and we’re continuing to focus our efforts on housing and permanent solutions,” she said.

Brooke Weitzman, directing attorney and co-founder of the Elder Law Center, said her firm has seen some Orange County cities that have delayed moving forward on building shelters because they hoped the Supreme Court would overturn the Martin decision.

“Hopefully, what [the Martin decision] will do is really create a space that will allow them to create solutions,” Weitzman said.

The UC Irvine Law alumna is one of the lead plaintiff attorneys in the Orange County Catholic Worker case being managed by U.S. District Judge David O. Carter.

Homeless advocates agree that a regional approach is better than city-specific shelters because providing services is so expensive and it prevents progressive cities like Laguna Beach from bearing the complete cost of providing services.

As a practical matter, it’s difficult for some homeless individuals to verify their deep roots in a community because they may have lost documents during an eviction, Weitzman said. This is problematic when they apply for a bed at municipally-funded shelters that only house people with ties to a specific city — it’s also potentially illegal.

“We can go back and forth whether they’re from that city and [if cities are] able to exclude people under California law,” Weitzman said.

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