NewsLocal News


City of Bozeman plans work session after Supreme Court rules cities can ban homeless encampments

Posted at 2:18 PM, Jun 28, 2024

BOZEMAN — The U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that cities can penalize the homeless for sleeping outdoors, by upholding a law banning homeless encampments.

After the ruling, the City of Bozeman announced it is planning a work session for the Aug. 6th commission meeting to evaluate Ordinance 2147 which passed in October 2023. The ordinance set the time, place and manner in which people could camp in the right-of-way within Bozeman city limits.

“We look forward to discussing Ordinance 2147 with the Commission on August 6 and how the Supreme Court’s decision factors into how we move forward,” said Chief Civil Attorney Anna Saverud.

Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen released the following statement:

“This is a huge win for cities across Montana that are suffering from unsafe public spaces. For too long local governments have been unable to address the rampant homeless camps and their side effects in communities across the state because their hands were tied. Cities like Bozeman and Missoula can’t hide behind the lower court’s flawed decision any longer. Now, they can enforce the laws that stop Montana streets from becoming camps for the homeless.”

Since 2018, municipalities in the 9th Circuit Court have been restricted on how they could regulate and manage the public right-of-way. Under this legal framework, Ordinance 2147 was adopted to address the impacts of camping in the right-of-way on city infrastructure and allowed for a safe way for those experiencing homelessness to stay on the street.

The 6-3 decision stemmed from the case of Grants Pass v. G. Johnson, after the Oregon town of Grants Pass started fining people nearly $300 for sleeping outside. If not paid, that fine would increase to $537.60, and multiple citations could expose the individual to criminal trespass charges — which could lead to a heftier fine and jail time.

"The enforcement of generally applicable laws regulating camping on public property does not constitute 'cruel and unusual punishment' prohibited by the Eighth Amendment," the Supreme Court said in its decision.

Supreme Court rules cities can ban homeless encampments

The city had previously argued it relied on "camping laws" — which bar the use of blankets, pillows or cardboard boxes for protection — to protect its community.

But a lower court had ruled against the town, saying it was cruel and unusual punishment since it didn't have enough shelter beds to house the individuals.

The high court's ruling essentially rejects arguments that banning homeless encampments went against the Constitution.

The case is the most significant to come before the Supreme Court in decades on this issue and also comes at as a time when there's a rising number of people in the U.S. without a permanent place to live.

Last year, the total number of people experiencing homelessness increased by 12%, according to a report by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Additional reporting by Scripps News Staff.


Bozeman urban camper population at an all-time high

Bozeman urban camper population at an all-time high

Urban campers in Bozeman adapting as city ordinance goes into effect

Urban campers in Bozeman adapting as city ordinance goes into effect

Bozeman looks to address urban camping

Bozeman looks to address urban camping