The Municipality of Anchorage has joined a group of cities and jurisdictions in asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review a federal court ruling that has impacted how Western states respond to homelessness. The ruling, known as Martin v. Boise, protects the rights of homeless people to camp outdoors on public land when there is no alternative indoor shelter available. However, local governments across the ideological spectrum have faced difficulties implementing policies over homelessness due to threats of lawsuits or injunctions. The Municipality of Anchorage hopes that the Supreme Court will reconsider the ruling and provide local governments with more latitude in enforcing bans on homeless camping.
Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson stated that the 9th Circuit Court’s decisions have paralyzed the city’s ability to address the severe homelessness crisis. The court’s rulings prevent municipalities from penalizing homeless individuals with jail or fines for needing to sleep outdoors when shelters are full. Additionally, the court’s definition of “camping” on public lands is vague, leaving municipalities unsure about whether they can sanction elaborate camp setups. The Municipality of Anchorage, along with several other cities and organizations, argues that the court’s decisions limit the ability of local policymakers and divert resources away from long-term solutions such as permanent housing, mental healthcare, and drug rehabilitation.
Despite joining the effort to review the ruling, the Municipality of Anchorage cannot clear camps out of public parks until there are more indoor shelter options available. The city plans to abate several camps and is relying on the availability of hotel rooms and a new low-barrier shelter space to offer alternatives to homeless individuals. However, local civil rights groups like the ACLU of Alaska argue that abatement is still unconstitutional in Anchorage and that the city should not violate the constitutional rights of unhoused individuals until there are sufficient shelter options. The Supreme Court’s decision on whether to review the ruling in Grants Pass v. Johnson, which concerns the definition of camping on public lands, and how the justices might rule remains uncertain.