SCOTUS Ruling on Homelessness: What It Means for Hawaii’s Compassionate Approach

SCOTUS Ruling on Homelessness: What It Means for Hawaii’s Compassionate Approach

On June 28, 2024, the U.S. Supreme Court decided to uphold the City of Grants Pass, Oregon’s right to create a policy banning camping in public spaces. This decision rejected the claim that the City’s policy was a violation of the Eighth Amendment: “Cruel and unusual punishment.” While the decision may at first glance appear to be an alignment with a heartless policy, it actually signals a need for communities to, as a collective, co-create more and better solutions that offer greater compassion AND housing. The decision recognizes that local jurisdictions have the authority to design policies and interventions to address homelessness in varied ways while also considering the greater community’s needs.

One of the main arguments in this case was that the City of Grants Pass was not offering shelter for people experiencing homelessness in their community, even when their climate included freezing snow. Individuals were being fined and arrested because they were found sleeping on the street. That, from our perspective, is shameful. But a SCOTUS decision in the opposite direction could have made it very difficult to enforce any kind of sidewalk ordinance calling for clearing them of encampments and structures blocking thoroughfare for anyone, including those with physical disabilities and kupuna. Accidents and injuries have occurred because pedestrians have been forced to walk into streets when encampments occupy entire sidewalks.

Here in our state, particularly on Oahu, we have a range of solutions unique to local communities, both urban and rural, available for those who are ready and willing to accept them. Our community is acutely aware that homelessness is a chronic issue, and each year, it is typically a priority for our State and County administrations. 

As this SCOTUS decision was handed down, our government at every level, service providers, businesses, and neighbors are working tirelessly, often together, to provide more shelter, create more housing, and offer more treatment and services to help individuals transition from the streets to stable housing, and to remain housed if at risk of homelessness. Although unsheltered people may still refuse services, the U.S. Supreme Court made it clear they have no right to camp in public areas even if there are no services for them when it’s snowing. 

This ruling provides impetus for localities to get even more creative and targeted with service offerings and motivate individuals experiencing homelessness to make different decisions instead of remaining on the streets.Hawaii is a state of Aloha. Our community is known for how we engage with one another, with compassion upfront and a predisposition for inclusivity as a general principle. With those values in mind, we care for others, while encouraging and inspiring persons experiencing homelessness toward kuleana for oneself and their community by taking a step toward bettering their lives and getting off the street. Conveying the message that housing on sidewalks is not what we envision for any member of our community is an important part of homeless policy or solution. But, so is the provision of appropriate shelter, housing and treatment options.

Want to talk more or have questions? Please reach out to Angie at info@ihshawaii.org

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