Constitutional Right to Sleep

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“Homelessness never left town because somebody gave it a ticket,” Tars says. “The only way to end homelessness is to make sure everybody has access to affordable, decent housing.”

It’s unconstitutional to ban the homeless from sleeping outside, the federal government says, Washington Post, August 13 2015, By Emily Badger

In this case, Plaintiffs are homeless individuals who were convicted of violating certain city ordinances that prohibit camping and sleeping in public outdoor places.7 They claim that the City of Boise and the Boise Police Department’s (“BPD”) enforcement of these ordinances against homeless individuals violates their constitutional rights because there is inadequate shelter space available in Boise to accommodate the city’s homeless population. Plaintiffs argue that criminalizing public sleeping in a city without adequate shelter space constitutes criminalizing homelessness itself, in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

But these concerns are not at issue when, as here, they are applied to conduct that is essential to human life and wholly innocent, such as sleeping. No inquiry is required to determine whether a person is compelled to sleep; we know that no one can stay awake indefinitely. Thus, the Court need not constitutionalize a general compulsion defense to resolve this case; it need only hold that the Eighth Amendment outlaws the punishment of  unavoidable conduct that we know to be universal. Moreover, unlike the hypothetical hard cases that concerned the Powell plurality, the conduct at issue in the instant case is entirely innocent. Its punishment would serve no retributive purpose, or any other legitimate purpose. As the plurality in Powell itself noted, “the entire thrust of Robinson’s interpretation of the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause is that criminal penalties may be inflicted only if the accused has committed some act [or] has engaged in some behavior which society has an interest in preventing.” Powell, 392 U.S. at 533 (emphasis added)

-JANET F. BELL, et al. V. CITY OF BOISE, et al., STATEMENT OF INTEREST OF THE UNITED STATES, Case 1:09-cv-00540-REB Document 276, United States Department of Justice, Office of Public Affairs, Filed 08/06/15

Poverty Premium Research (University of Michigan and UC Davis)

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“Because they have to buy small quantities, they have little inventory at home and can’t wait until a sale presents itself to purchase again, making it even harder to take advantage of sales,” says Orhun, professor for marketing. “It’s a double whammy.”

“It’s not about poor people making poor decisions; it’s about them facing liquidity constraints,” she says, “and it matters even for what we’d consider small purchases.

Frugality is Hard to Afford, news release about research completed by Professor Yesim Orhun and PhD student Mike Palazzolo; 02/24/2016

Frugality is Hard to Afford, Working Paper (Revising for invited resubmission at Journal of Marketing Research), Mar 20, 2016, Mike Palazzolo – Paper available for download

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Perhaps this sounds like a subtle discovery about minor household goods. But it supports a larger point about poverty: It’s expensive to be poor. Or, to state the same from another angle: Having more money gives people the luxury of paying less for things.

Why the poor pay more for toilet paper — and just about everything else by Emily Badger, Washington Post, 3/8/2016

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In a recent working paper, the University of Michigan’s A. Yesim Orhun and Mike Palazzolo, point to how two of American shoppers’ (and marketers’) favorite money-saving strategies, the limited-time offer and buying in bulk, come with savings that are more accessible to some consumers than others. Choosing to buy things when they’re on sale or packaged in huge quantities is something lots of shoppers may take for granted as a matter of preference, but for many, these purchases—and the savings that come with them—are out of reach.

The Privilege of Buying 36 Rolls of Toilet Paper at Once, The Atlantic, Joe Pinsker, MAY 12, 2016

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Limited access to supermarkets and discount stores, which contributes to the idea that poor people end up paying more for things or the “poverty penalty,” is one of the biggest problems facing low-income neighborhoods.

But the study suggests that low-income families can’t always afford bulk or sale items in the stores that they do have access to.

Why poor families are paying more for everyday items like toilet paper by Ahiza Garcia, CNN Money, March 25 2016.