In a landmark case on the rights of unhoused individuals, the U.S. Supreme Court will be evaluating the perspectives of citizens, cities and states, law enforcement, academic scholars, faith-based organizations, medical professionals, advocates and many others to determine the constitutionality of laws that prohibit the unhoused from sleeping or camping in public spaces when no shelter space is available.

The court, which is scheduled to hear oral arguments on Monday, April 22, will decide whether to uphold a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision in the case of the city of Grants Pass v. Johnson. The decision deemed Oregon anti-camping and anti-sleeping ordinances in parks and in other public spaces when no shelter beds were available unconstitutional and in violation of the Eighth Amendment. The Eighth Amendment protects individuals against excessive bail, fines and cruel and unusual punishment. While violations of the Oregon ordinances were met with the issuance of civil penalties, they could mature into criminal penalties.

UCLA experts from a range of disciplines who conduct research on homelessness as well as experts on Los Angeles’ unhoused population, the largest of any county in the country, joined more than 50 other social scientists to submit an amicus brief in support of Johnson’s right to sleep on the sidewalk or other public space when it is the only available option. The brief emphasizes that these types of laws and penalties, intended to reduce homelessness or act as a deterrent, in fact continue the cycle of homelessness and make conditions worse for unhoused individuals.

UCLA experts are available for comment. Please feel free to reach out to our experts directly or email/call the media contact.

Chris Herring

 Herring is an assistant professor of sociology whose research focuses on poverty, homelessness and housing in U.S. cities, including how the criminalization of being unhoused violates human rights and negatively impacts the prospect of future employment.

“Research consistently finds that the enforcement of anti-homeless laws not only fails to reduce homelessness in public space beyond a few blocks, but traps people in homelessness longer, exacerbates individual and public health conditions, and increases people’s vulnerability to crime and violence, all while creating numerous barriers to shelter, treatment, jobs, and housing,” Herring said in a press release from the legal and advocacy group Public Justice, which joined the amicus brief.

Randall Kuhn
Kuhn, who joined the amicus brief, is a professor of community health sciences in the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, focused on the social determinants of health among vulnerable populations. He conducts research with the California Policy Lab and the California Center for Population Research. He is part of the UCLA Unhoused Task Force, among other affiliations. He also leads a new UCLA partnership with individuals and agencies in the Skid Row area of downtown Los Angeles.

Ananya Roy
Roy, who holds the Meyer and Renee Luskin Chair in Inequality and Democracy, is a professor of urban planning and social welfare in the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and an expert on urban development, poverty, inequality and social justice, particularly in the developing world. She is the founding director of the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA, which advances research and scholarship concerned with displacement and dispossession in Los Angeles and elsewhere in the world. Roy also signed on to the amicus brief.