The US government believes it is unconstitutional for cities and towns to prohibit homeless people from sleeping outside, according to a statement of interest filed by the Department of Justice in a case out of Boise, Idaho. The Idaho Statesman reports the suit was brought against Boise by a number of homeless people convicted under a city ordinance that bans camping or sleeping in public. In its statement, the DOJ says such laws amount to cruel and unusual punishment because sleep is a "universal and unavoidable consequence of being human." It adds that "if a person literally has nowhere else to go, then enforcement of the anti-camping ordinance against that person criminalizes her for being homeless."
The Washington Post's Wonkblog says the DOJ's statement could be a warning to other cities from the federal government, which wants to encourage a more humane treatment of homeless people. Of 187 cities surveyed between 2011 and 2014, 34% had laws against camping in public, and even more banned sleeping in vehicles or sitting or lying down in certain public places. The Post reports the government believes it is more expensive in the long run to ticket homeless people than to invest in shelters and housing. And giving homeless people legal strikes against them can make it harder for them to find jobs or housing in the future. In 2014, the government estimated there were 153,000 unsheltered people on the street nightly. (Read more homeless stories.)