Wednesday, October 31, 2007
I recently taught in my Property I class laws that restrict the ability of homeless people to sleep in public places. I use Joe Singer's casebook, which devotes a small section on the "right to be somewhere and the problem of homelessness" (pages 173-176). That section in particular examined Pottinger v. City of Miami, which resulted in, among other things, the creation of "safe zones" for homeless people because they had no alternative shelter.
The class discussion we had about the tension between the right to exclude versus the right of access in the context of the problem of homelessness was one of the best discussions we've had so far this semester. Many students were bothered by the criminalization of being homeless as a result of local ordinances that prohibit acts such as sleeping in public. These students believe that homeless people should continue to have a right of access to public areas, at least for purposes of sleeping.
Today, the NY Times reported that the City of Los Angeles has decided to settle a case brought by the ACLU against the enforcement of the city's ordinance that makes sitting or sleeping on the streets illegal. The 9th Circuit held in Jones v. the City of Los Angeles in April 2006 that enforcement of the ordinance is tantamount to cruel and unusual punishment. The recently agreeed settlement reached between the city and the ACLU resulted not only in the decision by the city to not appeal the 9th Circuit case's opinion but also the provision of 1,250 low-income housing units.
In my local area (Dallas, TX), a local church has decided to open up its parking lot to homeless people as a place for them to sleep at night (see here for story). Their move has generated complaints from nearby business owners who have said that the presence of homeless people have driven away customers. This conflict raises yet another tension within our private property system - the privilege to use one's property versus the recognition that we can't use our property in ways harmful to our neighbors (again, another theme from the Singer casebook). Until adequate shelter and other services are provided to homeless people, the inherent tensions within our property system will continue to manifest in various ways.
Rose Cuison Villazor
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