Homelessness in America has reached its highest level since point-in-time (PIT) counts, the method used to estimate “the total number of individuals experiencing homelessness on any given night,” first began being recorded in 2007. The total number of those without shelter in this country has reached a staggering 653,000. In many cities, homelessness is not just people standing on street corners or sleeping on benches but entire encampments in public areas. This rapid increase comes just after the 10th anniversary of the implementation of the policy agenda of Housing First which, according to former President Barack Obama, was going to “eradicate” homelessness by 2023. Yet, here we stand with the highest unsheltered population in our 250-year history.

The problem has become so pervasive, so out of hand that even progressive states that originally bought into this policy have been forced to act for the sake of public safety. Several cities across the country have enacted camping bans prohibiting people from “camping on public property or parking overnight in the city’s parks.” Grants Pass, Oregon is one of these. The camping ban in Grants Pass was challenged in the courts under a previous decision, Martin v. Boise, that decided that “homeless persons cannot be punished for sleeping outside on public property in the absence of adequate alternatives,” arguing that doing so would violate the 8th amendment’s cruel and unusual punishment clause.

In the Grants Pass case, the Supreme Court found that imposing a limited fine for first time offenders and a maximum of 30 days for repeated violations did not constitute cruel or unusual punishment. The decision of the Supreme Court, written by Justice Neil Gorsuch, addressed the position of opponents of camping bans who say that these bans criminalize homelessness because in some instances the number of homeless outnumber the availability of shelter beds. The court’s decision refuted this argument by stating that the law equally applied to anyone camping in a public space whether they are homeless or a backpacker travelling through the city. The court also noted that there were plenty of beds available in shelters, but homeless individuals refused those spaces because they did not want to have to conform to the shelter rules and regulations. The court stressed that the Grants Pass camping ban did not punish the status of being homeless but acts committed by individuals.

The compassion we feel for other people who find themselves in dire straits is natural and is an important component when deciding policy. However, it is not compassionate to allow people to be stuck in a cycle of government-enabled homelessness, nor is it compassionate to forget about the safety of the public. Progressives have a stranglehold on policy at a federal level, which hamstrings the states from taking actions that would address the root causes of homelessness; namely, drug addiction and mental health issues. Today’s Grants Pass decision is a boon to cities and affirms their broad discretion over the ordinances necessary to keep public spaces accessible and restore law and order.