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Seattle Can't Prosecute Homeless For Sleeping Outside, Advocates Warn

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Several advocacy groups are warning city officials throughout Washington to review their treatment of homeless people. The groups say bans against sleeping outside are unconstitutional if a person has no place to call home. 

The warning went out to Washington city attorneys, prosecutors and police agencies. It asks them to take a closer look at local laws that make it a crime to sleep or camp in public places.

Doug Honig of the ACLU of Washington says a city can’t prosecute homeless people for camping if doesn’t have enough shelter beds.

“If somebody is sleeping outside, because they’re homeless and there’s not sufficient shelter, you can’t make that criminal," he said.

"Doing so violates the U-S Constitution, it’s cruel and unusual punishment. That’s very simple and direct but also a very profound statement of people’s rights.”

The letter points to a recent U-S Department of Justice statement from a case in Boise, Idaho, that says prosecuting homeless who don’t have other options violates the Eighth Amendment.

Students in the Homeless Rights Advocacy Project at Seattle University examined municipal codes in 72 Washington cities.  It found that more than three-quarters of those cities have laws that prohibit sleeping in public places.