Dear Supreme Court, it’s time you allow us to maintain public health and access in our own city.
Homelessness is currently a national crisis, and we all know that. And although Long Beach is one of the very best equipped cities to handle this crisis we are still struggling to manage the issue in terms of impacts on residents, businesses, and the city as a whole.
We have an amazing set of resources at the Multi-Service Center housing service providers that help with every type of assistance you can imagine. We have outreach teams in the Health Department, Police Department, Fire Department, and hopefully soon, our awesome lifeguards, all trying to get people into services. We are working on this from EVERY angle with creative approaches like our in-jail clinician, new shelters, day labor programs, real-time bed availability software, and even research such as working with Cal State Long Beach to focus on our outreach strategies and find opportunities for improvement.
This is just a handful of the great programs we are working on here in Long Beach, but this article is not about what is going in the right direction with homelessness but is instead about where there are huge needs for improvements.
Earlier this year, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals heard the case of Martin v. City of Boise, and their decision has fundamentally changed the way cities are now able to manage our open spaces including parks, beaches, sidewalks, and parking lots. The decision has resulted in cities no longer being able to enforce their own ordinances.
This decision forbids municipalities from enforcing ordinances that prohibit public camping, unless those local governments can offer acceptable shelter to every unhoused person in their jurisdiction. This severely limits our ability to address issues of homelessness and the appropriate protections of the rights held by everyone to access and meaningfully use public spaces. The city needs to have the ability to appropriately regulate public camping and enforce our city ordinances with the objective of protecting everyone equally and maintaining public health standards throughout our city.
People of all ages suffer from homelessness and many are in need of the services the city provides to help them get on a different path. Long Beach is making tremendous strides to better provide assistance to such individuals, but without the ability to effectively address issues of public camping, the city will be expected to shoulder an unrealistic burden that harms our ability to help people experiencing homelessness, maintain our public spaces in a way that allows for use by all people equally, and prevent public health and safety dangers which are commonly found in, or originating from, encampment areas.
The decision of the 9th Circuit is truly unique as no other circuit interprets the 8th Amendment in this way. So, this inconsistency is why earlier this week I brought to the City Council a motion to support the Supreme Court hearing an appeal of this case. We cannot allow well-intentioned laws to be carried to their unreasonable ends and preclude cities from responsibly maintaining public property. We cannot simply throw up our hands on homelessness and public health issues and simply allow anyone to take ownership over spaces that are meant to be free, clean, safe and accessible to everyone equally.
The city has a responsibility to help those experiencing homelessness, but at the same time we absolutely have a responsibility to protect the rights of everyone to freely use and feel safe in our public spaces.
Suzie Price is the Third District City Councilwoman.