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How U.S. Supreme Court case could impact CT's homeless residents

Mark Colville (center) stands on the steps of the New Haven Superior Court with other housing activists, criticizing city officials for clearing an encampment of unhoused people in West River Memorial Park earlier that month. Colville had his first court appearance that morning after being arrested while protesting the tent city eviction.
Ryan Caron King
/
Connecticut Public
Mark Colville (center) stands on the steps of the New Haven Superior Court with other housing activists, criticizing city officials for clearing an encampment of unhoused people in West River Memorial Park earlier that month. Colville had his first court appearance that morning after being arrested while protesting the tent city eviction.

The United States Supreme Court is hearing a case that may enable communities to limit the rights of homeless residents, but it likely won’t impact Connecticut residents.

The court case stems from the small city of Grants Pass, Oregon, where an ordinance was passed making it illegal to sleep outside.

Homeless residents were ticketed and arrested, and encampments were destroyed, despite there being insufficient shelter space in the city.

The case’s outcome is unlikely to directly impact Connecticut, largely due to the infrastructure in place to support the homeless, according to David Rich, chief executive officer of The Housing Collective, a housing advocacy group based in Bridgeport.

“Connecticut does a fairly good job, especially with its police departments, municipal and city officials, they really try,” Rich said. “Some of our best allies are with the police on the beat.”

The Oregon law effectively made homelessness illegal, Rich said. While Connecticut lacks sufficient shelter beds, no municipalities have similar restrictive ordinances.

Rich is more concerned about the change in attitude toward homeless Connecticut residents that may result.

“Criminalizing the homeless, stigmatizing the homeless, believing that they're there because of their own faults in their own nature, or are they just because they wish to be there?” Rich said. “It's just taking that off the table. It's nonsense.”

The case, Grants Pass, Oregon v. Johnson, originated in 2018. In 2020, a district court ruled the ordinances regulating homelessness were unconstitutional.

Through a series of appeals, the case made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Oral arguments were heard Monday, and a decision will be made by the end of term, in June.

Nationwide, more than 650,000 residents are homeless. In Connecticut, between 750 and 1,000 people sleep outdoors on any given night, Rich said.

While Connecticut doesn’t have ordinances permitting the ticketing or arrest of homeless individuals for sleeping outdoors, homeless residents have periodically been ticketed or detained for related offenses, such as trespassing, said Sarah Fox, chief executive officer of the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness.

“People get arrested because of infractions, or things that are a result of their homelessness and housing insecurity, not historically or that I'm aware of, just for sleeping on a bench or sleeping outside,” Fox said. “Things are definitely happening nationally. Connecticut has a long history of leading in the work to solve homelessness. Our state is making strong strides to ensure that everyone has a safe, dignified and affordable home.”

Abigail is Connecticut Public's housing reporter, covering statewide housing developments and issues, with an emphasis on Fairfield County communities. She received her master's from Columbia University in 2020 and graduated from the University of Connecticut in 2019. Abigail previously covered statewide transportation and the city of Norwalk for Hearst Connecticut Media. She loves all things Disney and cats.

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