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Supreme Court signals homeless people have a constitutional right to sleep in public spaces

It's a victory for homeless advocates on the West Coast, who say criminalizing homelessness is cruel and ineffective.

Image source: Portland Press Herald
  • The Supreme Court let stand a ruling from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which deemed homeless anti-camping laws unconstitutional.
  • Opponents of the ruling argue that local governments need more power to manage homeless populations, which are growing, especially on the West Coast.
  • Homeless advocates argue that criminalizing homelessness does not solve the root issue.


When the shelters are full, should it be a crime for homeless people to camp and sleep outside in public spaces?

The Supreme Court on Monday effectively said it shouldn't be a crime by declining to hear an appeal of the case City of Boise vs. Martin. That case, filed in 2009, involved 10 homeless people suing the city of Boise after they were ticketed approximately $150 for doing things such as resting near a homeless shelter, sitting on a riverbank with a backpack, and putting down a bedroll in the woods.

The plaintiffs claimed that the ordinance violated the Eighth Amendment, which protects against excessive fines and cruel and unusual punishment. In 2018, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed and ruled the ordinance unconstitutional. Now, the Supreme Court is letting that ruling stand.

It's a blow to state and local governments in nine western states who hoped that the high court would have given law enforcement more power — not less — to manage or eradicate homeless encampments.

Image source: The Washington Post / Contributor

"I think a lot of jurisdictions were hoping that the Supreme Court would enable a much greater level of enforcement activity around the unsheltered homeless, and that won't be the case," said Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, who is co-chair of California's task force on homelessness.

Homeless advocates hope the ruling will spur governments to create more shelters and housing programs.

Image source: Portland Press Herald / Contributor

"Our hope is that communities won't be nickel-and-diming this decision and figuring out the bare minimum so they can be legally compliant," said Eric Tars, an attorney with the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, who represented several plaintiffs in the initial Boise case. "We hope they take this opportunity to alter a completely unsuccessful way of dealing with homelessness."

But opponents of the ruling claim it leaves governments unable to manage a public safety problem.

In court documents, lawyers for Boise said: "Public encampments, now protected by the Constitution under the Ninth Circuit's decision, have spawned crime and violence, incubated disease, and created environmental hazards that threaten the lives and well-being both of those living on the streets and the public at large."

Image source: Smith Collection / Gado

It's unclear exactly how cities covered by the 9th Circuit Court will change their approach to managing the homeless population. Las Vegas, for example, recently passed a law that makes it illegal to sleep on downtown streets only if there are beds available at local shelters.

What's uncontroversial in this case is the fact that homelessness, especially on the West Coast, is a significant problem. In Los Angeles County, as many as 60,000 people are homeless on any given night in 2019, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. In San Francisco, the homeless population has soared by 30 percent since 2017. Sacramento reported this summer that its homeless population is the highest on record. And across the U.S., about 500,000 people go homeless each night.

As more American cities are starting to pass anti-camping ordinances, homeless advocates argue that these kinds of laws fail to effectively address the root issue.

"Housing, not handcuffs, is what ends homelessness," Maria Foscarinis, executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, told NPR.

The “new normal” paradox: What COVID-19 has revealed about higher education

Higher education faces challenges that are unlike any other industry. What path will ASU, and universities like ASU, take in a post-COVID world?

Photo: Luis Robayo/AFP via Getty Images
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Everywhere you turn, the idea that coronavirus has brought on a "new normal" is present and true. But for higher education, COVID-19 exposes a long list of pernicious old problems more than it presents new problems.
  • It was widely known, yet ignored, that digital instruction must be embraced. When combined with traditional, in-person teaching, it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale.
  • COVID-19 has forced institutions to understand that far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income, and in the context of COVID-19 this means that lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color will be disproportionately afflicted.
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Masturbation boosts your immune system, helping you fight off infection and illness

Can an orgasm a day really keep the doctor away?

Sexual arousal and orgasm increase the number of white blood cells in the body, making it easier to fight infection and illness.

Image by Yurchanka Siarhei on Shutterstock
Sex & Relationships
  • Achieving orgasm through masturbation provides a rush of feel-good hormones (such as dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin) and can re-balance our levels of cortisol (a stress-inducing hormone). This helps our immune system function at a higher level.
  • The surge in "feel-good" hormones also promotes a more relaxed and calm state of being, making it easier to achieve restful sleep, which is a critical part in maintaining a high-functioning immune system.
  • Just as bad habits can slow your immune system, positive habits (such as a healthy sleep schedule and active sex life) can help boost your immune system which can prevent you from becoming sick.
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The biology of aliens: How much do we know?

Hollywood has created an idea of aliens that doesn't match the science.

The biology of aliens: How much do we know? | Michio Kaku, ...
Videos
  • Ask someone what they think aliens look like and you'll probably get a description heavily informed by films and pop culture. The existence of life beyond our planet has yet to be confirmed, but there are clues as to the biology of extraterrestrials in science.
  • "Don't give them claws," says biologist E.O. Wilson. "Claws are for carnivores and you've got to be an omnivore to be an E.T. There just isn't enough energy available in the next trophic level down to maintain big populations and stable populations that can evolve civilization."
  • In this compilation, Wilson, theoretical physicist Michio Kaku, Bill Nye, and evolutionary biologist Jonathan B. Losos explain why aliens don't look like us and why Hollywood depictions are mostly inaccurate.
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Live on Tuesday | Personal finance in the COVID-19 era

Sallie Krawcheck and Bob Kulhan will be talking money, jobs, and how the pandemic will disproportionally affect women's finances.

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