Homeless sleeping
City of Santa Barbara officials are not worried about an appellate court ruling that an Oregon city’s “sleeping in public” ordinances violated the constitutional rights of the homeless. They say local ordinances already take into account the court’s concerns. (Noozhawk file photo)

A federal court decision protecting the rights of homeless individuals to sleep outside will not cause any local policy changes, officials told Noozhawk.

The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reaffirmed that the homeless can not be penalized for sitting, lying, or sleeping outside on public property in violation of municipal ordinances.

The Sept. 28 ruling was handed down in Johnson v. City of Grants Pass, Oregon.

The ruling specified that homeless people cannot be fined, arrested or otherwise punished for sleeping on public property if they do not have access to city homeless shelters, nor could authorities confiscate the blankets, sleeping bags, mats, cardboard or tarps they were using.

People can sleep outside if there are no homeless shelters or beds they can be directed to, the court determined.

Illegal camping ordinances in the City of Santa Barbara are “already in line with the Boise decision as well as materially different from the City of Grants Pass,” Assistant City Administrator Barbara Andersen told Noozhawk.

Santa Barbara County Undersheriff Craig Bonner said the department’s policies, procedures and deputy training relating to the unhoused are already aligned with the Grants Pass decision.

“Prior to engaging in any form of enforcement related to a person’s unhoused status, we engage in significant collaboration with both county and community-based service providers, and efforts are made to connect the individual/s with appropriate housing and services through a multidisciplinary team process,” he said in a statement emailed to Noozhawk.

Bonner said working with local groups to prevent homelessness has reduced the need for camping, sleeping and loitering enforcement from the Sheriff’s Department.

Officials say Santa Barbara has approximately 882 people who are experiencing homelessness in 2022 — almost 1% of the city’s population.

The appellate court ruled that the City of Grants Pass’ attempts to enforce an “anti-camping ordinance” was a violation of the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment, which states that “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”

The Santa Barbara City Council approved a “sit-lie” ordinance last year, making it illegal for homeless people to sleep on sidewalks between Canon Perdido and Carpinteria streets from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m.

No changes to the ordinance are expected as a result of the appellate court ruling.

According to a City Hall news release, Santa Barbara’s municipal code is different from that of Grants Pass, which is located along Interstate 5 and the Rogue River in southwestern Oregon.

“Santa Barbara expressly excludes ‘merely sleeping outside or the use of a sleeping bag, bedroll or mat’ from the definition of prohibited camping,” officials said. “Therefore, Santa Barbara’s enforcement of its prohibition on camping in public places, such as parks and beaches, adheres to the Ninth Circuit’s instructions under this recent decision.”

Noozhawk staff writer Grace Kitayama can be reached at gkitayama@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.