MARK PULLIAM: How Lawyers Cause Homelessness: The Boise case proves that pro bono litigation is not always “for the public good.”

Cities in the western United States—Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles, Venice Beach, San Diego, Phoenix—host some of the nation’s largest populations of bums, vagrants, drunks, drug addicts, and the non-institutionalized mentally ill. These categories of people are typically lumped together under the catchall label “homeless,” a modern euphemism rapidly giving way to the even more exculpatory moniker “unhoused.” It is precisely the failure to talk plainly about the objective reality of urban blight that has made the situation worse than it was when I started writing about this problem three decades ago.

According to HUD estimates, nearly one-third of America’s total homeless population (580,466) lives in just three states—California, Oregon, and Washington. Leading the nation with 161,548, California has almost three times as many bums and vagrants as the second-place state, New York. The Golden State’s expenditure of billions of dollars to house transients has only increased its number of homeless. Even bums respond to economic incentives, gravitating to places where they are tolerated, fed, funded, and enabled. Some misguided cities even furnish addicts with fresh needles and “safe injection” sites.  Concierge service for drug abusers!

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Things are only going to get worse in the nine western states under the jurisdiction of the notoriously liberal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, thanks to a rogue 2018 ruling in Martin v. Boise that declared unconstitutional—as “cruel and unusual punishment,” of all things—any city ordinances that prohibit homeless people from sleeping or camping overnight on public property (such as parks, sidewalks, and, in California, beaches) unless the jurisdiction provides enough shelter beds to house every single “person experiencing homelessness,” a burden no city will ever be able to meet.


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