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Use the Supreme Court’s Grants Pass decision as a prompt – Marin Independent Journal

Homeless advocates participate in a demonstration in front of the Phillip Burton Federal Building and the US Courthouse on Monday, April 22, 2024, in San Francisco, California. Over 60 people gathered at the federal courthouse to demand that the Supreme Court keep current restrictions on extermination camps in place. (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group

Several weeks ago, while driving to work, I witnessed a scene that epitomizes the housing crisis that we at Legal Aid of Marin see every day. I saw a man in his late 40s or early 50s, wearing a button-down shirt, standing behind his van. The open back door revealed a mirror and as I got closer I realized he was shaving.

In that moment, I knew I was looking at someone who lacked a private space for this basic task—someone likely experiencing residential instability.

This encounter forced me to reflect on how the face of homelessness in Marin is not always what we might expect. Sometimes it looks like someone is shaving while getting ready for work.

Why do we often shy away from the housing crisis unfolding before our eyes? Is it because we judge individuals who are not housed and believe that their precarious position is their fault? Is it because we don’t think we have a responsibility to help? Or maybe the fear of not knowing how to solve homelessness prevents us from taking action? Whatever the reason, it doesn’t matter. The reality is that the housing crisis is affecting thousands of our neighbors in Marin, and it’s time to do something about it.

Late last month, the US Supreme Court handed down a devastating decision in Grants Pass v. Johnson. The court overturned the 9th Circuit’s ruling in Martin v. Boise, which had held that cities cannot enforce public camping bans against the homeless if there are more homeless than available shelter beds.

The court noted that policy decisions to address homelessness should be made by elected officials, not federal judges interpreting the Eighth Amendment, which protects against “cruel and unusual punishment.”

This decision will effectively criminalize homelessness by removing protections that once prevented the government from arresting people who have no choice but to sleep outside. As Justice Sonia Sotomayor put it in her dissent, people who are not housed will face “an impossible choice: either stay awake or get arrested.”

In these times, state action hostile to marginalized communities seems almost inevitable. After all, history has taught us that abuse of power comes as no surprise. It is easy to despair in the face of human suffering. But, I assure you, we can do something about Marin’s housing crisis. We can take concrete steps that will change so many lives for the better. We must act together and humbly acknowledge that while we do not have all the answers, our collective effort is greater than the sum of its parts.

Let’s use Grants Pass as a call to action with specific steps we can take to help our neighbors who are not housed. Here are some ideas:

• Attend city, town and county hearings. Ask your elected officials to commit to addressing Marin’s housing crisis with compassion, fairness and justice for all.

• Learn about rent protection (including rent stabilization), “just cause” eviction laws, rent registries, public land trusts, and other policies that can significantly improve housing stability for countless individuals.

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