In the News: Court Rules Law Banning Living in Cars Unconstitutional

written by naehblog
June 23, 2014

It’s perhaps unsurprising that, when many people become homeless, they choose to live in their vehicles. A vehicle can provide several advantages for someone experiencing homelessness: mobility, shelter from the elements, and, perhaps most importantly, a place to sleep at night.

Nevertheless, since 1983, living out of your car in L.A. could get you arrested. On Thursday, June 19, a U.S. appeals court overturned the city ordinance that prohibited the use of vehicles as living quarters, according to an article published by Reuters.

The law was just one of many across the country that criminalize homelessness. Our friends over at the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty have been tracking these laws for years. To learn more, check out their report, “The Criminalization of Homelessness in U.S. Cities.”

The LA ordinance wasn’t all bad: it also required that the officers give information to offenders about helpful resources such as area homeless shelters. But like other anti-homelessness laws, it did little to address the issue of homelessness itself.

The plaintiffs in the case, a group that included four homeless people, argued that the ordinance was too broad, making it difficult for them to know which actions, like keeping canned food in your car or sitting in your car to stay out of the rain, were considered using the vehicle as living space.

The court agreed. It ruled that the ordinance was unconstitutional on the grounds that it was cryptic and discriminatory. Specifically, the appeals court ruled that the ordinance gave insufficient notice of offense and promoted discrimination against the poor and homeless.

For the 57,737 people who experience homelessness in LA County each night, this ruling should make it easier for them to take shelter in their vehicles. A car isn’t a home, but living in one shouldn’t be a crime.

Also in the News

Nightly Migration: Homeless Chased From Waikiki – for a Few Hours,” looks at the how Honolulu’s policy of “compassionate disruption” is affecting the lives of homeless people in Waikiki.

Man Gives House to Homeless Family for Free,” details how a real estate agent remodels is giving away fully refinished and furnished houses to homeless families.

In our opinion: Utah's Housing First program proves successful,” looks at how Housing First has helped Utah achieve a 72 percent decrease in chronic homelessness.