I submitted a shadow report to the U.N. Committee Against Torture in conjunction with the National Homelessness Law Center. The shadow report documented the cruel and unusual punishment experienced by homeless people in Denver, Colorado as a result of the urban camping ban.
The U.N. Committee Against Torture and the U.N. Committee Against Racial Discrimination called on the U.S. to end the criminalization of homelessness. The U.S. Department of Justice responded on Aug. 6, 2015 by intervening in Janet F. Bell v. City of Boise with a Statement of Interest clarifying that the criminalization of homelessness without adequate shelter targets the status of homelessness, constitutes cruel and unusual punishment and violates the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.
After a decade of litigation, the case reached United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit which struck down laws criminalizing homelessness in the Ninth Circuit.
SCOTUS refused to hear the appeal.
U.N. Shadow ReportINT_CAT_CSS_USA_18604_E
The shadow report was based on research in The Denver Camping Ban: A Report From the Streets. I helped interview 500 homeless people about the impact of the urban camping ban on their survival and contributed to the report compiled by the political science department at the University of Colorado at Denver.
United Nations Response
U.N. Committee Against Torture:
“Although the federal government of [the] U.S.A. has recognized that criminalization of [the] homeless is a poor public policy of local government, but we would like to know from your delegation if you have taken any measures to improve the treatment of the homeless people and if you have any alternate policies to deal with homeless people.” p. 22.
Sapana Pradhan-Malla, Committee MemberCAT-Complete-Transcript-from-Just-Security
U.N. Committee Against Racial Discrimination:
“Criminalization of homelessness
While appreciating the measures taken by federal and some state and local authorities to address homelessness, the Committee is concerned at the high number of homeless persons, who are disproportionately from racial and ethnic minorities, particularly African Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans and Native Americans, and at the criminalization of homelessness through laws that prohibit activities such as loitering, camping, begging, and lying in public spaces (arts.2 and 5(e)).
The Committee calls upon the State party to:
(a) Abolish laws and policies making homelessness a crime; CERD/C/USA/CO/7-9
(b) Ensure close cooperation among all relevant stakeholders, including
social, health, law enforcement and justice professionals at all levels to intensify efforts to find solutions for the homeless in accordance with human rights standards; and
(c) Offer incentives to decriminalize homelessness, including by providing
financial support to local authorities that implement alternatives to criminalization, and withdrawing funding from local authorities that criminalize homelessness.” pgs. 5-6.
“Criminalization of Homelessness in US Criticized by United Nations,” Carey L. Biron, Inter Press Service, Sept. 11, 2014.
Statement of Interest of the United States
Intervention in Janet F. Bell v. City of Boise by the U.S. Department of Justice.bell_v_boise_statement_of_interest
United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
Landmark decision striking down laws criminalizing homelessness in the Ninth Circuit.15-35845
New York Times
“Laws Punishing Homeless People for Sleeping in Public Are Cruel and Unusual, Court Rules,” Mihir Zaveri, New York Times, Sept. 5, 2018NYT