Parties reach historic agreement that prevents people experiencing homelessness from being cited or arrested for sleeping outdoors when no shelter is available
(February 8, 2021, Boise, Idaho) – Today, lawyers for members of Boise’s homeless population and the City of Boise announced a momentous settlement in Martin v. Boise, ending over 12 years of litigation, and embodying important steps towards safeguarding the constitutional rights of Boise residents and addressing homelessness within the City.
In 2019, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals determined that, pursuant to the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution, people experiencing homelessness cannot be charged with a crime for sleeping outside if there is no shelter available. Advocates have hailed the Court’s decision, which has led many cities across the United States to propose and implement constructive alternatives to homelessness. Robert Martin, one of the named plaintiffs in the case, remarked, “The overriding intention for the lawsuit was to just be allowed the same basic right to rest and sleep that every American citizen has without fear of persecution. Nobody should feel fear from police for doing something that is a basic human need. I hope that with this settlement we can open the doors to finding a better solution to the homeless crisis [rather than] to just sweep it elsewhere or lock it up out of public eye.”
Under the terms of the settlement, the City has agreed to take a number of historic actions to safeguard the rights of Boise residents and to work towards preventing and ending homelessness within Boise. Among other actions, the City is implementing changes to two local criminal ordinances to protect homeless individuals from being arrested, imprisoned, or fined for sleeping or camping outside if no overnight shelter is available to them, and instituting policies and training to further secure that result. In addition, the City is dedicating $1.3 million in additional funds to serve Boise’s homeless community, at least one-third of which shall be committed to rehabilitating or creating additional overnight shelter space for Boise’s homeless population. The parties have also agreed to continue working together to ensure that individuals experiencing homelessness within the City have needed access to resources, services, and where appropriate, medical and mental health care.
“Today’s settlement in the landmark Martin v. Boise case is a win for all residents of Boise, housed and unhoused alike, and serves as a national model for how other communities should be implementing the decision,” said Eric Tars, Legal Director at the National Homelessness Law Center. “By getting homeless individuals off the streets and into housing or shelter, there will be no need to enforce any ordinances against them—housing, not handcuffs, is what ends homelessness.”
As Howard Belodoff, Associate Director of Idaho Legal Aid Services, stated, “The settlement represents the efforts of hundreds of homeless citizens of Boise who were prevented from accessing overnight shelter to sleep due to a disability, limited shelter capacity and shelter policies. The settlement requires the City to focus on services rather than the far more expensive punishment in the criminal justice system and incarceration in the Ada County Jail.”
Pamela Hawkes Duke, another named plaintiff, noted, “I am so happy and proud to see everyone’s hard work finally come together in such a way that will help so many people. I am really looking forward to seeing what other cities come up with as time goes on, especially when the City of Boise will have laid down the foundation for what it could look like.”
“The Ninth Circuit’s landmark decision resolved that the Eighth Amendment prohibits cities from criminalizing the status of homelessness itself by punishing individuals for sleeping outside when they have nowhere else to go,” said Latham & Watkins partner Michael Bern. “The City’s commitment to safeguard the rights of Boise’s residents and dedicate additional funds to preventing and ending homelessness will produce meaningful benefits for Boise’s homeless community as well as the City of Boise itself.”
The National Homelessness Law Center (the Law Center) is the only national organization dedicated solely to using the power of the law to prevent and end homelessness. With the support of a large network of pro bono lawyers, we address the immediate and long-term needs of people who are homeless or at risk through outreach and training, advocacy, impact litigation, and public education. The Law Center facilitates the national Housing Not Handcuffs Campaign, endorsed by more than 3,000 elected and law enforcement officials, homeless advocates, and others.
Idaho Legal Aid Services, a statewide non-profit law firm dedicated to Equal Justice of the Law that protects the rights of low income Idahoans by providing free legal services to victims of domestic violence, the housed and unhoused, senior citizens, the disabled, farm workers, and Native Americans in the State of Idaho through education and advocacy.
Latham & Watkins delivers innovative solutions to complex legal and business challenges around the world. From a global platform, our lawyers advise clients on market-shaping transactions, high-stakes litigation and trials, and sophisticated regulatory matters. Latham is one of the world’s largest providers of pro bono services, steadfastly supports initiatives designed to advance diversity within the firm and the legal profession, and is committed to exploring and promoting environmental sustainability.