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It’s never comfortable to see people who are homeless camping out in a public park or under a highway overpass. But should cities be able to fine or arrest people for sleeping in public if they can’t offer space in shelters?

The Supreme Court will consider this question on April 22 in City of Grants Pass v. Johnson. Though the case originated in a small Oregon city, it has implications for addressing homelessness nationwide.

According to University of Southern California law professor Clare Pastore, previous rulings have viewed criminalizing someone for their status – such as being homeless or addicted to drugs – as cruel and unusual punishment. She explains how a ruling in favor of the city could worsen racial inequality in the U.S.

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Jennifer Weeks

Senior Environment + Cities Editor

A homeless person near an elementary school in Fruitdale Park in Grants Pass, Ore. AP Photo/Jenny Kane

Supreme Court to consider whether local governments can make it a crime to sleep outside if no inside space is available

Clare Pastore, University of Southern California

Legal precedents hold that criminalizing someone for their status, such as being homeless, is cruel and unusual punishment. But what if that status leads to actions like sleeping in public spaces?

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