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City Council to Soon Discuss Controversial Supreme Court Decision

Published on Wednesday, July 10, 2024 | 5:28 am

A recent Supreme Court ruling on homelessness will come to the City Council soon as a formal agenda item for discussion. 

The ruling, known as Grants Pass, has lifted previous restrictions that prohibited municipalities from certain enforcement measures aimed at curtailing public encampments. Advocates argue the ruling provides necessary tools to maintain civic order and safeguard commercial and residential areas, while critics contend it criminalizes homelessness and could exacerbate social inequities.

In the majority opinion, Justice Neil Gorsuch said that state and local leaders, not federal judges, should make policy on homelessness. 

“Homelessness is complex,” Gorsuch said in the court’s opinion. “Its causes are many. So may be the public policy responses required to address it. At bottom, the question this case presents is whether the Eighth Amendment grants federal judges primary responsibility for assessing those causes and devising those responses. It does not.”

The 6-3 ruling has left some worried that local homeless people will become targets of law enforcement and City enforcement.

The ruling was briefly discussed on Monday when the City Council received a report on the annual homeless count. The City Council could not undertake a full discussion on the matter because it was not on Monday’s agenda. 

“We have to have the ability to preserve the quality of life and our commercial and residential and recreational areas, and it can be a trigger now, hopefully, for what we really need here, which are state and federal programs and resources to help these people,” said Vice Mayor Steve Madison. “We’re not going to reduce the unhoused in Pasadena. We’re going to attract more because our neighbors are not doing as much as we are. And that’s just not right. We really need to use Grants Pass, and I’ve asked the City Manager to consider different approaches to implementing that decision.”

City Manager Miguel Márquez said the City is preparing to bring information to the Council about Grant’s Pass. The City will also seek direction on Grants Pass.

“Prior to Grants Pass being decided by the Supreme Court, there was a prohibition on a particular tool that we had and that prohibition’s now gone,” Márquez said. “It doesn’t mean that we’re going to now use that tool. It means we’re going to talk to you about it, have a comprehensive discussion, and get direction for Pasadena’s local policy to be decided by the council in which myself and my team will implement once we have that discussion and find our path.”

The City’s latest homeless population count remained unchanged from the previous year—at 556 individuals—but underwent significant shifts in demographics and subpopulations.

Pasadena Public Information Officer Lisa Derderian previously told Pasadena Now, “The City is considering the approach that is best suited for Pasadena, in view of all options available. In the meantime, we have made big strides in assisting our unhoused individuals and responding to encampments through our homeless outreach teams.”

Derderian highlighted the work of the HOPE and PORT teams. 

Last week local activists told Pasadena Now they were worried the ruling would be used to criminalize homelessness. 

“This Supreme Court decision basically criminalizes being unhoused. The affordable housing crisis has resulted in increased homelessness,” Rev. Bert Newton. “We should be providing homes and treatment rather than prosecuting people who have nowhere to go for the unavoidable “crime” of merely existing.”

Councilmember Jason Lyon said the Supreme Court could not have gotten it more wrong in its ruling. 

“It absolutely criminalizes homelessness and there was a much more reasoned center path to take the same way we take with the First Amendment where there could be reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions on outdoor sleeping. But to allow municipalities to criminalize a basic biological need, I think is unconscionable. And so I, for one, will not be a vote for taking our policy in that direction.”

Councilmember Jess Rivas also said she too believes the ruling criminalizes homelessness.

I think it’s important to distinguish between Grants Pass and the conservatorship issue and making sure folks are able to get the mental health care that they need when maybe they aren’t willing to accept it,” Rivas said. “And I feel like those are two distinct issues, very closely related, but I feel like Grants Pass does criminalize homelessness.

Rivas asked City staff for more information on the conservatorship issue. 

No word on when the issue will come to the City Council. 

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