Court: Prosecuting homeless 'cruel and unusual punishment,' could affect Cincinnati

Homeless camps returning?

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - Less than a month ago, Cincinnati and Hamilton County leaders agreed to a permanent countywide ban on homeless camps on public and private property.

Now, a federal court has ruled on a similar case saying that cities can't prosecute people for sleeping on streets.

The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with six homeless people from Boise, Idaho, who sued the the city over an ordinance in 2009 that banned sleeping in public spaces.

The Associated Press said the biggest issue was that the city's rule violated the U.S. Constitution's Eighth Amendment against cruel and unusual punishment, the court found. The amendment limits what the government can criminalize, it said.

"As a result, just as the state may not criminalize the state of being 'homeless in public places,' the state may not 'criminalize conduct that is an unavoidable consequence of being homeless - namely sitting, lying, or sleeping on the streets,'" Judge Marsha Berzon wrote.

The court's ruling could have an impact on Cincinnati's homeless problem.

Cincinnati's ban on homeless camps came after weeks of back and forth between the camp and city leaders.

"My hope is that we don't see these tent cities pop back up, but if we do, we have to work the issue as quickly as possible to get folks into the shelter or the home that will provide them with a better life," Councilman Greg Landsman said.

In August, Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters went to the courts three times to shut down the homeless camp, forcing it to move from Third Street to Central Parkway to Eden Park Drive to its last location on privately-owned land at 13th and Republic streets.

At the time, Hamilton Common Pleas Court Judge Robert Ruehlman barred the camps from public land unless there is no space for homeless in local shelters.

"People aren't going to stop existing," said Brian Garry, Chair of the Human Services Coalition. "They're currently homeless and moving them doesn't make them un-homeless -- they're still going to be homeless."

Despite all the so-called evictions of the homeless, Sam Landis with Maslow's Army said there have been some positive changes made and he thanks city and county leaders for providing the services the homeless need to survive.

"Im proud of the city, I'm proud of the county. I'm proud of the residents here in Cincinnati and Hamilton County that's stepped up to make this possible.I think that everybody kind of chipped in," he said.

According to Garry, this is a temporary solution to a big problem that impacts more than 9,000 people in Cincinnati.

Joe Phillips, a homeless man who unsuccessfully sued to stop Ruehlman's ban, said camp residents have applied for housing so they can get off the streets.

"We're trying to survive," said Phillips, 30, who said he was kicked out of the Shelterhouse for missing curfew and has been on the streets for three weeks. He said he came Downtown, "because that's where the services are."

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