Last week, the US Department of Justice filed a statement of interest in a case in Boise, Idaho, where an ordinance banning sleeping or camping in public places has effectively criminalized homelessness. From the DOJ's filing:

When adequate shelter space exists, individuals have a choice about whether or not to sleep in public. However, when adequate shelter space does not exist, there is no meaningful distinction between the status of being homeless and the conduct of sleeping in public. Sleeping is a life-sustaining activity — i.e., it must occur at some time in some place. If a person literally has nowhere else to go, then enforcement of the anti-camping ordinance against that person criminalizes her for being homeless.

Laws banning public sleeping or camping violate the Eighth Amendment, the DOJ argues, which protects against cruel and unusual punishment. As the DOJ dips into this issue, other cities are warned to treat homelessness more humanely. Eric Tars, a senior attorney for the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, says inhumane laws against homelessness have become more common since the recession.

"Homelessness is just becoming more visible in communities, and when homelessness becomes more visible, there’s more pressure on community leaders to do something about it," Tars says. "And rather than actually examining what’s the best thing to do about homelessness, the knee-jerk response — as with so many other things in society — is 'we’ll address this social issue with the criminal justice system.'"

Facts about homelessness in the us:

 A report that surveyed 187 cities between 2011 and 2014 found that 34% had citywide laws banning camping in public, 43% of the cities prohibited sleeping in vehicles, and 53% banned sitting or lying down in certain public spaces.

 On any given night, there are over 600,000 homeless people in the U.S., according to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)

 One-quarter of homeless people in the US are children.

 Domestic violence is a leading cause of homelessness among women. According to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty (NLCHP), over 90% of homeless women are victims of physical or sexual abuse, and escaping that abuse is a leading cause of their homelessness.

 Cover image: Flickr