After more than 12 years of litigation, lawyers for members of Boise’s homeless population and the City of Boise have announced a momentous settlement in Martin v. Boise. This settlement helps safeguard the constitutional rights of Boise residents and promotes constructive solutions to preventing and ending homelessness within the city.
Over a decade ago, pursuant to city ordinances, Boise began issuing criminal citations to members of its homeless population for sleeping outside, even when Boise's few homeless shelters could not accommodate them. In 2009, Latham and Idaho Legal Aid Services, in coordination with the National Homelessness Law Center, brought a lawsuit against the City of Boise on behalf of six members of Boise's homeless community, alleging that Boise’s criminalization of public sleeping in a city lacking adequate shelter beds to accommodate its homeless population criminalized the status of homelessness itself in violation of the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.
In 2018, Latham persuaded the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to hold that people experiencing homelessness cannot be charged with a crime for sleeping outside if there is no shelter available. The US Supreme Court later let that decision stand. Advocates have hailed the Court’s decision, which has led many cities across the United States to propose and implement constructive alternatives to homelessness. Read more about this decision here.
Robert Martin, one of the named plaintiffs in the case, remarked, “The overriding intention for the lawsuit was to just be allowed the same basic right to rest and sleep that every American citizen has without fear of persecution. Nobody should feel fear from police for doing something that is a basic human need. I hope that with this settlement we can open the doors to finding a better solution to the homeless crisis [rather than] to just sweep it elsewhere or lock it up out of public eye.”
Under the terms of the settlement, the city has agreed to take a number of historic actions to safeguard the rights of Boise residents and to work towards preventing and ending homelessness within Boise. Among other actions, the city is implementing changes to two local criminal ordinances to protect homeless individuals from being arrested, imprisoned, or fined for sleeping or camping outside if no overnight shelter is available to them, and instituting policies and training to further secure that result. In addition, the city is dedicating US$1.3 million in additional funds to serve Boise’s homeless community, at least one-third of which shall be committed to rehabilitating or creating additional overnight shelter space for Boise’s homeless population. The parties have also agreed to continue working together to ensure that individuals experiencing homelessness within the city have needed access to resources, services, and where appropriate, medical and mental health care.
Pamela Hawkes Duke, another of the plaintiffs, stated: “I am so happy and proud to see everyone's hard work finally come together in such a way that will help so many people. I am really looking forward to seeing what other cities come up with as time goes on, especially when the City of Boise will have laid down the foundation for what it could look like.”
“The Ninth Circuit’s landmark decision resolved that the Eighth Amendment prohibits cities from criminalizing the status of homelessness itself by punishing individuals for sleeping outside when they have nowhere else to go,” said Latham partner Michael Bern, who led the Latham team. “The city’s commitment to safeguard the rights of Boise’s residents and dedicate additional funds to preventing and ending homelessness will produce meaningful benefits for Boise’s homeless community as well as the city of Boise itself.”
Since taking the case in 2009, more than 70 Latham lawyers and professional staff have collectively donated more than 7,000 pro bono hours to helping ensure the decriminalization of homelessness.