Cities cannot punish homeless people for sleeping outside when their only other option is a religious shelter that they might not want to go to, a federal appeals court has ruled.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the city of Boise, Idaho, could not enforce an ordinance that banned homeless people from sleeping in public spaces on nights when there was space available in shelters.
The court noted that even though the shelters had space, some of them turned people away if they arrived late and others required participation in religious activities.
"A city cannot, via the threat of prosecution, coerce an individual to attend religion-based treatment programs," Judge Marsha S. Berzon wrote for the court.
The court held that the city's policy of arresting people who did not want to go to shelters violated the Eighth Amendment's ban on "cruel and unusual punishment," reported the Los Angeles Times.
"The 8th Amendment prohibits the imposition of criminal penalties for sitting, sleeping, or lying outside on public property for homeless individuals who...