Central Florida Homeless Advocates rally as Supreme Court hears public sleeping case

Supreme Court Justices are now deciding a major case that could impact how Central Florida tackles a growing homelessness crisis.


On Monday, the court heard the case of Grants Pass V.S. Johnson. It stems from the rural city of Grants Pass, Oregon where city leaders imposed a fine and jailtime for camping and sleeping outside.

Supreme Court Justices are considering whether people experiencing homelessness should be arrested or fined for sleeping outdoors.

Plaintiffs in the case argued Grants Pass’ strict camping ordinances violate their 8th amendment rights and amount to ‘cruel and unusual punishment.’ They argued especially because Grants Pass does not have available shelter capacity, the homeless have no other choice but to sleep outdoors.

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Meanwhile attorneys for the city of Grants Pass argued the plaintiffs misunderstand the 8th amendment.

“We think it is harmful for people to be living in public spaces, on streets and in parks, whatever bedding materials. When humans are living in those conditions, we think that that’s not compassionate,” said Theane Evangelis, Attorney for the City of Grants Pass, Oregon.

On Monday, a group of nearly 50 homeless advocates rallied outside of Orlando’s federal courthouse as the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case.

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The advocates said they are against the ordinances in Grants Pass which “make it a crime to be homeless.”

Similar rallies were held in 21 other cities across the United States.

Speakers at the rally reiterated they believe the solution to homelessness is building more affordable housing and shelters, not arresting those living on the streets.

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According to the Homeless Services Network, the number of unsheltered people in Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties was 426 in 2022, but rose to 587 in 2023, and is expected to rise again this year.

“By default those people are on our streets. They are unsheltered because we don’t have a shelter for them to go to. So, what we need is both, we need more housing, and we need more safe shelters,” said Martha Are with the Homeless Service Network of Central Florida.

Advocates at the rally said the court’s decision will set a precedent regardless.

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If the Supreme Court decides that Grants Pass’ public camping ordinances are unconstitutional, a Florida law set to take effect October 1st could also be deemed largely unconstitutional too.

That law forces Florida cities and counties to prohibit public camping and would only allow tents on Department of Children and Families approved encampments.

It could also impact several local laws that regulate public camping and blocking public sidewalks.

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Altamonte Springs City Commissioner Jim Turney said the city of Altamonte Springs has a law that prohibits overnight public camping, so long as there is somewhere else for people to sleep.

According to Turney, the Supreme Court’s decision could impact that city ordinance.

“Whatever the Supreme Court decision is, whether it has an effect on the Altamonte Springs ordinance or not, we still have work to do to address the problem of homelessness,” said Turney.

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