Many cities that cracked down on homelessness have been hit with legal challenges over their new restrictions.
New York City, Dallas, and other cities that tried to aggressively address their homeless problem — and the drug, crime, and public nuisance issues that accompany it — are now defending their policies in court.
In New York City, civil rights groups are attempting to block Mayor Eric Adams’ initiative to hospitalize homeless people who are severely mentally ill and appear to be a danger to themselves.
“If severe mental illness is causing someone to be unsheltered and a danger to themselves, we have a moral obligation to help them get the treatment and care they need,” Adams said when he announced the plan.
In December, several civil rights groups asked a federal judge to block the policy, claiming it is unconstitutional and violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.
New York’s policy sometimes involves confiscating homeless people’s belongings as they are removed from public property and taken to a hospital. The city’s move comes amid concerns that the city’s homeless crisis is becoming more visible and spiraling out of control.
Also last month, Dallas was sued over its October policy restricting people hanging around road medians, where homeless people often panhandle. City officials said the policy is for public safety because people can get hit by passing cars. However, the homeless people and their advocates who sued the city argued the policy violates their First Amendment rights.
Albuquerque was sued last month by homeless people and the ACLU of New Mexico for removing homeless encampments and arresting and fining people living on the street, allegedly violating their civil rights.
Similarly, Phoenix was sued last month by the ACLU of Arizona over sweeps of a huge homeless encampment downtown.
“Rather than confront its housing crisis head-on and invest in sustainable solutions to homelessness, the City is terrorizing the very people it should be helping,” the complaint reads.
In San Francisco, which has one of the nation’s worst homeless and drug crises, homeless people and their advocates sued the city for fining and arresting homeless people as a way to get them out of public spaces. They also complained that the city throws out homeless people’s tents and other belongings without enough warning.
Recently, the Ninth Circuit federal appeals court has limited what some West Coast cities with severe homeless crises can do to address the problem if they can’t offer appropriate shelter.
“It is a serious, serious, problem, probably the biggest crisis we’re facing right now, and I think these decisions are at the heart of what has gone wrong here,” attorney Theane Evangelis, who defended an Oregon city’s homeless policy in the 9th Circuit, told The Wall Street Journal.
“They’ve caused paralysis at a time when we need action,” Evangelis said.
A federal judge has temporarily banned San Francisco from taking those actions to combat the homeless issue, citing Ninth Circuit rulings.
Back in 2021, Austin was sued for not doing enough to address the city’s homeless problem. A group of Austin business owners and others sued the city for not enforcing its public property camping ban.