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Chico supports overturning of law restricting enforcement of homeless residents

Caterpillar vehicles clear trash and abandoned belongings at homeless encampment at Depot Park in Chico, Calif. on Aug. 10, 2023
Alec Stutson
Caterpillar vehicles clear trash and abandoned belongings at homeless encampment at Depot Park in Chico, Calif. on Aug. 10, 2023

The city of Chico is showing support for overturning a court decision that calls it unconstitutional for cities to remove unhoused people from the streets if there’s nowhere for them to go.

A case with the Supreme Court from Grants Pass, Ore., could overturn a 2018 case known as Martin v. Boise, which ruled that cities typically can’t enforce anti-camping ordinances against unhoused residents sleeping on public property when no alternative shelter is available.

The city of Chico has filed what’s known as an amicus brief in support of the Grants Pass case. This is a supporting document filed by a party not involved in a particular case.

Several other cities have also taken similar action, as well as California Assembly Republicans who are calling on the state legislature to file its own amicus brief.

Jim Stanley, press secretary for Assembly Minority Leader James Gallagher, R-Yuba City, said the caucus feels Martin v. Boise makes it difficult for cities to remove people who are camping in public areas.

“We think that the decision in Martin v. Boise has led to cities all around California having to fight this homelessness problem with one hand tied behind their back,” Stanley told NSPR.

Chico City Council Member Addison Winslow opposed the city’s filing of the amicus brief. He said overturning Martin v. Boise would allow cities to clear people out of encampments, without restraint, which he said is ineffective.

“Would we end up with more or less homeless people?” Winslow said. “We would just be scattering people around. Around our city, around our county, and around our state overall.”

John Do is a senior attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Northern California, where his work focuses on the rights of unhoused residents.

He said an amicus brief is an opportunity for parties who are not the actual litigants in a case to inform the court of their particular experiences, “to perhaps help guide the court in making a particular decision.”

Do said amicus briefs can be impactful, but they can also reiterate an opinion or topic that the court already knows about.

“Chico certainly expressed how it has been addressing homelessness or not addressing homelessness and its perceived difficulties in light of the settlement that it entered into,” Do said. “But it also just restated prior judicial opinions or prior concerns at the same time.”

Other parties can contribute briefs until Dec. 6.

Erik began his role as NSPR's Butte County government reporter in September of 2023 as part of UC Berkeley's California Local News Fellowship. He received his bachelor's degree in Journalism from Cal State LA earlier that year.