The Supreme Court could put an end to urban squalor
by Betsy McCaughey
Tired of stepping over needles and human waste and navigating around half-conscious addicts and homeless encampments?
You’re not alone. Most decent, hardworking people want clean sidewalks for getting to work and walking their kids to school.
But cities are barred legally from cleaning up homeless encampments.
Activists went to court and won rulings guaranteeing the homeless almost unfettered freedom to set up tents and live in the rough, your health and safety be damned.
Here’s the good news. The US Supreme Court announced Friday it will rule on a case challenging this new normal of squalor, disease, and shouting schizophrenics invading our neighborhoods.
The town of Grants Pass, Ore., about 250 miles south of Portland, is challenging a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that goes back to 2018, shielding the homeless from any punishment for camping on public property.
The Ninth Circuit, known for its left-wing jurisprudence, says penalties for sleeping on public property amount to “cruel and unusual punishment.”
That ruling has directly tied the hands of city politicians in Phoenix, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Portland, and other Western cities.
Courts in the rest of the United States have cited it as a reason to tolerate homeless encampments.
What the justices decide this spring will affect the entire country.
Advocates for the homeless say cities are unwilling to spend the money to take care of the indigent.
Don’t fall for that. All across the nation, municipalities have been increasing shelter accommodations, but many homeless flatly refuse to come in off the streets.
They choose to sleep in the “rough” rather than put up with the rules and conditions in public shelters.
A Portland survey showed that 75% turned down offers for shelter accommodations.
In San Francisco, 54% did in 2023, according to city data.
The homeless deserve compassion, but allowing them to stay on the street, where they freeze to death on a sidewalk or succumb to disease, is not compassionate.
They are, on average, reducing their own lifespan by three decades or more.
Nationwide, the proportion of homeless choosing the streets over public shelters is steadily increasing.
The Grants Pass litigants tell the court, “Time is of the essence.”
“The consequences of inaction are dire,” they say, citing: “crime, fires, the re-emergence of medieval diseases, environmental harm, and record levels of drug overdoses and deaths on public streets.”
Even California’s governor, Gavin Newsom, is warning the justices that homeless encampments “are dangerous” and pose “immediate threats to health and safety.”
Newsom may have political reasons for changing his tune, but his brief to the court talks of “significant risks for disease transmission” and “property damage, theft, and break-ins” near the encampments.
The court will rule no later than June.
Expect the justices to overturn the Ninth Circuit’s loony decision and free municipalities to restore order and safety to their streets.
But the court can’t command them to do it.
Ultimately it will depend on local officials to act on behalf of the quiet, law-abiding majority.
Mayor Adams recently boasted he’s not allowing New York to descend to the likes of Los Angeles’ Skid Row.
Holding up a photo of LA and pointing to the filth, he exclaimed, “There are no toilets!” and asked, “Is this what you want your children to see?”
Adams, to his credit, has acted aggressively to involuntarily commit the mentally ill and get them off the streets.
But don’t count on other New York City officials to be so sane.
A Homeless Bill of Rights, written by the far-left City Council, became law in May.
It explicitly acknowledges a right to sleep outdoors, pitting the mayor against the bill’s sponsor, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who has an eye on Adams’ job and would temporarily succeed to it if Adams steps down for any reason.
Williams says calling for shutting down encampments is “stoking fear.” Voters take note.
New Yorkers and voters everywhere need to elect leaders who will end the squalor and restore order.
Betsy McCaughey is a former lieutenant governor of New York.