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On April 22, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in City of Grants Pass v. Johnson, a pivotal case in the struggle of west coast cities to manage an explosion of homeless encampments that has eroded livability and threatened businesses. OBI has joined a U.S. Chamber of Commerce amicus curiae brief that details the consequences of stripping state and local governments of “the discretion to enforce public health measures and ensure public safety for the benefit of all citizens.”

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has tied the hands of state and local governments in just this fashion since 2018, when it ruled in Martin v. City of Boise that enforcing criminal restrictions on public camping violates the Eighth Amendment’s clause on cruel and unusual punishment unless adequate shelter is available.

Similarly, the 9th Circuit later ruled in City of Grants Pass v. Johnson that cities can’t ticket homeless people for sleeping outside on public property unless adequate shelter is available.

The 9th Circuit covers nine western states, including Hawaii and Alaska. And just one of the circuit’s states, California, contains almost 30% of the nation’s homeless people, according to the brief.

As a consequence of the circuit’s rulings, the brief notes, “businesses throughout the circuit bear the brunt of local governments’ inability to respond effectively to the public-health issues and criminal activity that invariably follow in the wake of burgeoning homeless encampments.”

Among the many examples included in the brief is that of a business in Bend that boarded horses until a nearby homeless encampment drove its customers away. Meanwhile, it notes, the effects of crime have been particularly acute in Portland, where more than 2,600 downtown businesses have filed changes of address with the U.S. Postal Service to leave downtown ZIP codes.

Also joining the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s brief are state chambers in Arizona, California and Montana.