The U.S. Supreme Court decided that cities reserve the right to enforce bans on sleeping in public spaces. San Francisco Mayor London N. Breed expressed approval of the decision and that San Francisco will start dismantling homeless encampments, which have been a persistent issue in the city.

This Supreme Court case is one of the most consequential on the matter in decades, as cities nationwide grapple with the complex issue of increasing homelessness and public concerns about health and safety.

“We will continue to prioritize services, but we cannot allow people to occupy the streets of San Francisco freely, especially when we have alternatives available,” said Mayor Breed, a Democrat, following the 6-3 decision.

Breed stated that she would consult with the City Attorney’s Office before enacting new policies and that the city would train personnel involved in clearing the camps.

However, the ruling was not universally accepted. Some cities, like Seattle, announced no changes to their approach to encampments. A spokesperson for the Portland, Oregon, mayor’s office mentioned that state law prevents significant changes based on the court’s decision. Cody Bowman, a spokesperson for Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, a Democrat, expressed hope that the decision would prompt the state Legislature to provide cities with the necessary tools to manage public camping, offer adequate shelter, and maintain safe and clean streets.

Boise, Idaho’s Mayor Lauren McLean, also a Democrat, indicated that her city would not alter its methods, which include case management and supportive housing for those sleeping in public spaces.

“In Boise, we care for people. Criminalizing homelessness has never solved and will never solve the issues related to it,” said Mayor McLean. “We must address the root causes with effective strategies like permanent supportive housing that help residents remain housed and thrive.”

California Governor Gavin Newsom, who is about to sign a state budget including $250 million in grants for local governments to clear homeless encampments, remarked that the ruling provides state and local officials with clear authority to enforce policies against unwanted encampments.

“This decision removes the legal uncertainties that have hindered local officials for years, limiting their ability to implement common-sense measures to protect community safety and well-being,” Newsom said, in light of the ruling and the release of Los Angeles’ annual homeless population count.

Sara Rankin, a law professor at Seattle University and director of its Homeless Rights Advocacy Project, predicted that the ruling might lead to widespread efforts by cities to ban street sleeping. However, she warned that state and other federal constitutional provisions could still be invoked.

“Many cities might misinterpret this ruling as an open season on unhoused individuals,” Rankin said. “But they do so at their own risk because lawyers will likely challenge these actions under other legal theories that remain viable despite today’s decision.”

Jesse Rabinowitz, communications and campaign director at the National Homelessness Law Center, voiced concerns that the decision could lead cities to focus more on penalizing people sleeping outside rather than addressing the underlying issues.

“Encampments exist in California, D.C., and New York not due to a lack of punitive laws, but because there isn’t sufficient housing that meets everyone’s needs,” Rabinowitz said. “This ruling will make it harder to address the real solutions.”