The Supreme Court criminalizes being homeless

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Clare Pastore and homeless tents at Triangle Park along 2nd Street between Massachusetts Avenue and D Street, NE, Washington DC on Tuesday afternoon, 12 January 2021. Clare Pastore photo courtesy of Clare Pastore and tents photo by Elvert Barnes Photography/Wikicommons.

The Supreme Court’s recent decision to allow cities to ban people from sleeping outdoors presents a major shift in the perception of poverty and homelessness in the U.S. and what the Eighth Amendment represents. Clare Pastore, a law professor at the University of Southern California, joins her faculty colleague Robert Scheer on this episode of the Scheer Intelligence podcast to break down what the decision means and expand on her article published in The Conversation.

Pastore explains that the legal precedent reversed by the conservative majority was that “it's cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment to criminalize sleeping outdoors for people who have no other option.” Now, Pastore tells Scheer, cities are not barred from enforcing this kind of criminalization.

“These are not laws to protect people. Homeless people are at greater danger than they are a danger to others. These are laws trying to get people to just move out of the jurisdiction and go somewhere else,” Pastore said.

Scheer argues that the problem has been around long before the recent SCOTUS decision and the elephant in the room for states like California, which Scheer points out is the fifth largest economy in the world, do not use their vast resources to address the problem but rather put the blame on decisions like this and continue their politics that ignore the central issue.

Pastore agrees, telling Scheer, “My biggest fear, in terms of a generation of people who are growing up thinking this is normal, is that this idea that this is intractable, is taking hold and it's not right.”

The greed in the U.S., where housing is regarded as a private good, strains the ability to attack the roots of the issue. “We have very few controls on how much [housing] can cost and we have very few incentives to make it cost less and we just don't put those kinds of legal mechanisms in place to preserve and create more affordable housing,” Pastore said.



Joshua Scheer