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Idaho drops lawsuit, homeless encampment demonstrators file lawsuit in return

The State of Idaho dismissed its lawsuit Monday against the demonstrators. The state received a lawsuit from the same party today in response.

BOISE, Idaho — Seven demonstrators formerly outside the old Ada County Courthouse filed a lawsuit against the State of Idaho Tuesday in regard to the homeless encampment demonstration lasting from mid-January to late March.

The protest worked to bring awareness to the lack of affordable housing and low-barrier shelter options in Boise and the greater Treasure Valley area.

According to state code, demonstrating on the Capitol Annex property is a protected form of free speech; however, the act of camping is not recognized as a form of symbolic speech. Idaho State Police regulated the demonstration and removed items reflective of camping as defined in the state code.

The State filed a lawsuit against several demonstrators for violation of the state code and creating a public health risk. The State dismissed their lawsuit Monday, according to Idaho Attorney General's office spokesperson Scott Graf.

Idaho Legal Aid Attorney Howard Belodoff represents the demonstrators and is challenging this state code in the new lawsuit against the state.

"Nobody says you have to agree with their message, but it's a valid message," Belodoff said. "They don't have a bed to go home to. They don't have an apartment to go home to. They have to go somewhere."

Belodoff served as the lead attorney in Martin v. The City of Boise (2019). The court case set the precedent to legalize public camping for people experiencing homelessness who have nowhere else to go; that level of scrutiny is measured by the availability of beds in local homeless shelters.

Low-barrier shelter Interfaith Sanctuary repeatedly reported overcapacity through the winter months. The Boise Rescue Mission system often reported plenty of availability; however, many demonstrators told KTVB they are not welcome at the nearby shelters with availability.

While a bed may be open, that does not mean a person qualifies for that bed. Barriers impeding access to an open shelter bed include pets and mental disabilities, according to the lawsuit.

If a person has no access to shelter, Martin v. Boise established criminalizing public camping is a violation of the 8th Amendment - your protection against cruel or unusual punishment.

"You're not allowed to have a sleeping bag under the statute, but you need a sleeping bag because you have nowhere else to live. You make that illegal? How do you make that illegal? That practically makes them illegal," Belodoff said. "That's what this case is about. You just don't get to treat these people in the manner of which they were treated."

Idaho State Police have enforced the state statute against camping on the Capitol Annex lawn by removing items defined in the state code as indicative of camping. This includes propane tanks, sleeping bags, and pillows.

ISP can remove unattended property on the lawn, according to the code. ISP should hold the items for 90 days before disposing of them, the code said.

According to the lawsuit, none of Belodoff's clients received a receipt for the items taken or instruction on how to regain possession of the items taken.

"They violated their own statute in my opinion, anyway," Belodoff said. "The only way they're treated as equal in the eyes of the defendants is if they prove their case in court, which they will do."

The Attorney General's office will not comment on pending litigation, AG spokesperson Scott Graf wrote KTVB in an email.

Governor Brad Little's office addressed the lawsuit in a press release.

"Idaho does not tolerate illegal public encampments and destruction of public property," Gov. Little said. "Idaho is not San Francisco, Portland, or Seattle, where public officials have engaged in failed experiments to permit and encourage unsafe and destructive public camping."

Below is the full lawsuit filed against the State of Idaho:

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