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Supreme Court ruling permits homeless camp bans, local advocates voice concerns

Posted at 5:40 PM, Jun 28, 2024

OSHKOSH (NBC 26) — In a landmark decision, the Supreme Court has ruled that cities can legally ban homeless camps, a verdict that may significantly influence homelessness policy across the United States. This ruling comes as the number of those unhoused continues to rise.

  • The Supreme Court allows cities to ban homeless camps, impacting policies nationwide
  • Locally, rules vary between municipalities
  • Oshkosh focuses on support, reaching a compromise on green space for homeless camp

On the local level, the rules on managing homelessness vary across municipalities.
Katie Olson is the lead organizer from ESTHER, which stands for Empowerment, Solidarity, Truth, Hope, Equity and Reform. It is a community-organizing nonprofit, and an advocate for the homeless. She expressed deep concern over the Supreme Court ruling. Olson criticized the decision, stating, "I'm not surprised because there are so many people ruled by 'not in my backyard' sentiments, but it's disheartening and cruel to ticket the unhoused."

ESTHER's Task Force works closely with individuals experiencing homelessness. Olson highlighted the impracticality of ticketing people who cannot afford housing. “If these people cannot afford a home, how can they afford tickets, therefore they're being criminalized, and I really, really hope that we do not see that at the local level.”

In March, the City of Neenah approved an ordinance prohibiting sleeping on most city property. However, Lt. Andy Lecker of the Oshkosh Police Department says local enforcement does not ticket people for sleeping outside, focusing instead on connecting them with resources.

“I can't think of any situations where we take that ticket, somebody that was homeless, there could be times where like a homeless person has violated an ordinance or a rule where they may have gotten a ticket for it just like anyone else may have,” Lt. Lecker adds.

Earlier this month, Oshkosh police came under fire for allegedly displacing unhoused individuals in the green space next to the Orrin King building in downtown Oshkosh.

Winnebago County Executive, John Doemel says after meeting with local advocates like ESTHER they have come to a compromise: allowing people to sleep overnight in the green space, provided they stay 25 feet from the building during office hours.

For Olson, this represents a positive step. "I feel like this is a good move in the right direction," she remarked, hopeful for continued progress through ongoing meetings with county officials to find solutions like the green space camp in Oshkosh.