In what could be a far-reaching victory for homeless advocates, a federal appeals court ruled Friday that Los Angeles police must stop arresting people who are sleeping or sitting on public sidewalks when shelter beds are not available. If it is allowed to stand, the 2-1 decision by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals could have broad ramifications as city and county officials seek to deal with the area’s estimated 80,000 homeless residents and move many off downtown’s Skid Row. “Anyone who cares about homelessness and finding positive solutions to this serious issue in our community will be encouraged by this decision,” said Ramona Ripston, executive director of the ACLU and a member of the city’s Homeless Service Authority. Originally filed in February 2003 against the Los Angeles Police Department and Chief Bill Bratton, the suit challenged a city ordinance making it illegal to sit, sleep or lie on a public sidewalk. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREOregon Ducks football players get stuck on Disney ride during Rose Bowl eventIt came as officials were trying to crack down on the homeless and as the downtown area began its economic transformation. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said the lawsuit reaffirms the direction in which the city has been moving for the past several months. “That is why we have begun a safe-cities initiative that doesn’t focus on the homeless; it focuses on the crimes of the homeless” Villaraigosa said. “We are already moving in the direction of complying with the court.” City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo said in a statement that he was disappointed in the ruling against the city and would be studying it to make a recommendation to the mayor and City Council on the next potential legal step. ACLU attorney Mark Rosenbaum, who argued the case last December before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, called it the most significant decision ever reached involving the homeless. “What this says is that the city can no longer consider homelessness a crime,” Rosenbaum said. “It can have reasonable restrictions on its city streets, but it can’t have a 24/7 ban. The city and the county need to provide shelter for the homeless. “My hope is that the city will now treat homelessness as a social problem affecting all of us, not a crime.” Los Angeles police officials said in a statement that the ruling will not affect their efforts to control violent crime. “The condition of being homeless in and of itself is not a crime and should not be treated as such,” the statement said. “But, the criminal element that preys upon the homeless and mentally ill will be targeted, arrested and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. “Enforcement alone will not solve the tremendous problems on Skid Row. The homeless problem did not occur overnight. It has existed for many years and, unfortunately, there is no easy fix. “The department will work with the city’s political leadership and the courts to find solutions.” Rosenbaum said the case served to show that despite the claims of officials, there are an insufficient number of shelter beds to house the homeless. “We had expert after expert come up and say there are nowhere near the (number of) beds needed for the homeless,” Rosenbaum said. “What this suit says is that the city cannot arrest someone if there is no shelter available.” Last month, county officials announced a $100 million program to add, expand and coordinate homeless services. In addition, Villaraigosa has set aside $50 million in the city’s housing trust fund to provide temporary housing. As part of the county plan, homeless centers would be created in different communities to prevent the continued dumping of the homeless in the Skid Row area. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of six homeless people, all of whom were arrested by police for sleeping on the street. Rosenbaum said the cases represented a cross section of the homeless population, 25 percent of whom are children, 20 percent are veterans with the remainder either the working poor or those with drug and alcohol problems. A lower court had dismissed the case, with the judge saying the city law dealt with conduct and not whether someone was homeless. The 2-1 ruling issued Friday reverses that and sends it back to the lower court to determine whether an injunction should be issued. U.S. District Judge Kim Wardlaw wrote the opinion, saying the city’s law prohibiting people from sleeping on public sidewalks violated the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. “(It) is an unavoidable consequence of being human and homeless without shelter in the city of Los Angeles & because there is a substantial and undisputed evidence that the number of homeless persons in Los Angeles far exceeds the number of available shelter beds at all times,” Wardlaw wrote. Judge Pamela Ann Rymer dissented, saying the city ordinance did not target the homeless, but those with criminal records. Staff Writer Brad A. Greenberg contributed to this report. firstname.lastname@example.org (213) 978-0390 Who the plaintiffs are; what they were doing The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday struck down a Los Angeles ordinance that made it a crime for homeless people to sleep on the streets when there is no shelter available. Here is a brief profile of the plaintiffs who challenged the constitutionality of the ordinance. Robert Lee Purrie, in his early 60s, had lived on Skid Row for 40 years and was sleeping on the sidewalk at Sixth Street and Towne Avenue when he was cited Dec. 5, 2002. He was arrested Jan. 14, 2003, at the same location after failing to pay a fine from the earlier case. After the second violation, Purrie was given a 12-month suspended sentence and fined $195. He later complained that his blankets, clothes and other belongings that he left when he was arrested were gone when he returned. Stanley Barger suffered a brain injury in a 1998 car crash. His monthly income totaled $221 in welfare payments, plus food stamps. He was arrested Dec. 24, 2002, at Sixth and Towne, convicted of violating the city’s ordinance and sentenced to two days time served. Thomas Cash was unemployed, suffering from severe kidney disease and living in Skid Row hotels or on the street when he was arrested Jan. 10, 2003. He told officials he had tired while walking to the hotel where he was staying and was resting on a tree stump when he was cited by LAPD officers. Edward Jones cared for his wife, Janet, who suffered from serious physical and mental afflictions that made it difficult for him to work full time. The couple used welfare payments to stay in Skid Row hotels the first half of each month, but slept on the street after the money ran out. They were sleeping on the sidewalk at Industrial and Alameda streets when they were cited Nov. 20, 2002. Patricia and George Vinson also used their welfare payments to stay in hotels, moving to shelters when their money ran out. They had missed the bus to take them to a shelter and were sleeping on the sidewalk at Hope and Washington streets when they were cited Dec. 3, 2002.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!