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Posts Tagged ‘Civil Rights’

Freedom to Beg?

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Civil Rights, Criminalization

WASHINGTON – U.S. District Court Chief Judge “Ted” Stewart of the Utah District Court struck down a law that limited panhandling or public begging. Families and individuals who live in persistent poverty often turn to panhandling as a way of scraping together badly needed cash (the average American panhandler earns $30 for a three hour shift). Recently, instances of “aggressive-panhandling” have prompted some local Ute’s to take action to protect their public interest. Chief Justice Steward pushed back stating:

“The court does not dispute that the state has a legitimate and important interest in regulating conduct that occurs on busy roadways, and it may do so as long as the legislation is written so as to avoid infringing on constitutionally protected rights. However, it may not do so through sweeping statutes that regulate conduct unrelated to the government interest,” (Wilkinson et al. v Utah)

Efforts to restrict the poor have a long history, both locally and nationwide. But, specific efforts to criminalize panhandling have been under particular scrutiny just in the past year. Some examples include:

  • In Royal Oaks, Michigan, the ACLU appealed to mayor and city commissioners, calling for a repeal of the 2011 ordinance that bands panhandling in all public places. They cited the lower court’s authority that protected panhandling even if it’s uncomfortable for those being asked to give to the panhandler [Coast v. City of Cincinnati 402 US 611, 61(1971)]

Panhandling was specifically protected by the lower court on the following grounds:

  1. First Amendment speech [Loper v. NYC Police Department 999 F. 2d 699 (2d Cir. 1993), Benefit v. City of Cambridge 679 N.E.2d 184 (Mass.’97)]
  2. Broad application of content speech (Logsdon v Hains 492 F.3d 334,336)
  3. Failing to prove the state’s interest to curb charitable donations or solicitations on public ground [Blair v. Shanahan, 775 F. Supp. 1315 (N.D. Cal. 1991), Ledford v State, 652 So.2d 1254 (FL/Dist.Ct.App.’95)]

Subsequently, the Royal Oaks ordinance has been repealed and replaced with a prohibition on “aggressive” panhandling.

  • ARIZONA V. BOEHLER – On September 13, 2011, a state appeals court unanimously ruled in Arizona v. Boehler that a 2003 amendment to a Phoenix anti-panhandling law was unconstitutional under the First Amendment and strict scrutiny. The law “was not narrowly drawn because it applied to many forms of peaceful solicitations that did not threaten, intimidate or harass others. The law could apply to someone politely asking for cash contributions to a political campaign or a church volunteer asking for donations to the church,” according to the opinion. “Our constitution does not permit government to restrict speech in a public forum merely because the speech may make listeners uncomfortable.”
  • In the New Orleans French Quarter, the community passed a local anti-panhandling law, stating that it wrote the law “after similar laws in other cities and is designed to withstand possible challenges that it violates the First Amendment.”

The language of the 2011 law prohibits soliciting “in or near parks, playgrounds, banks, ATMs, bars, liquor stores, convenience stores and gas stations — or within 20 feet of an intersection or marked crosswalk, to people in parked or stopped vehicles, or to people standing in lines.” Although unstated in the laws review (article) The New Orleans prohibitions are similar to Royal Oaks prohibitions, in that they applied to public places and the regulation of speech in said area..

  • Johnston County, North Carolina approved panhandling regulations just two weeks ago. The county now requires solicitors to register for a permit to ask for money. Officials sated, “They’ll have to show a photo ID and pass a criminal background check. Upon appeal by the ACLU on the grounds that several provisions were unconstitutional, commissioners dropped all requirements that panhandlers renew their permits or pay a $20 fee each month.

Neighboring Wake and Raleigh counties also began regulating panhandling, with the ACLU describing the measures as near criminalization. ACLU legal director Katy Parker said, “Panhandlers rarely possess a photo ID, which is a requirement for the permits in Raleigh, Wake County and Johnston County,” Further complicating matters for those who wish to file for public solicitation, permits purchased in Wake County must be renewed weekly. The Johnston county law is thought to only apply to public solicitors only, creating the same or similar scenario similar as seen in Arizona v. Boehler and Wilkinson v. Utah.

By Jose Morales, American University ’13

NCH Members Respond to “Homeless Hotspots”

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Civil Rights

“Homeless Hotspots” – is this marketing campaign a friend or foe to un-housed folks? NCH has been getting a lot of requests-for-comment.  As a membership organization that advocates with (not for) homeless individuals, we depend, rely and are primarily informed by the opinions of people who are homeless. So, we asked our members for their feedback and this is what we heard.

NCH believes it should focus its time and attention on the three primary causes and solutions to America’s homelessness: affordable housing, living wage jobs and accessible healthcare. So, we asked if this was a relevant issue for us to be discussing. The response was clearly a “yes”. No matter how you feel about the issue of “Homeless Hotspots”, it’s a conversation about jobs.

Next, we asked if this was a living wage job. The general agreement was “no”. But, when we asked folks who had done similar types of “jobs”, they said that they took the work knowing how much it paid and that it was temporary. Some people used the experience just get a little spending money and others thought it might help them to get a little work experience before taking on a more permanent job. People compared it to selling streets newspapers. One “Homeless Hotspot” worker described his pay as $20 per day and $2 for each person he could get to use the serve. It worked out to about $8 an hour. So for most folks we asked, it seemed to pay close to a living wage.

Lastly, we asked if jobs like the “Homeless Hotspot” job treated homeless people as less than human, or like an object and not like a person. The responses were clear and consistent. Most people felt that being homeless in America can be, and often times is, a dehumanizing experience. Being homeless means being ignored or treated like “something” unwanted. The “Homeless Hotspot” gave folks on the streets a reason for people to talk to them.

So, NCH’s comment is that we need a lot more affordable housing, many more jobs that pay a living wage, and improved access to healthcare. Unless and until then, we’re going to have homelessness in America. “Homeless Hotspots” isn’t the answer, but it’s not the problem either. If we want to get mad, and NCH thinks we all should, let’s get mad for the right reasons and at the right people. If we’re going to end homelessness, we’re going to need much more funding and lots more new and innovative ideas.

Thanks again to all our members for making us a better organization, and thanks for your support in Bringing America Home!

Violence Hidden in Plain View

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Civil Rights, Hate Crimes, Report, Violence Against the Homeless

What are crimes of hate against the homeless and why does the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) believe it’s so necessary to invest considerable time and attention into researching this issue? Admittedly, some choose to believe that the homeless don’t deserve federal and state legal protections and some draw the hard line of choosing to believe that hate crimes simply doesn’t exist.

After more than a decade of research and analysis, NCH has proven that behaviors that begin as hurtful towards the homeless often devolve into bias motivated criminal acts of hate. We are reminded of these facts all too often, in media stories that year after year possess increasingly more brutal forms of abuse.

Hurtful thoughts and acts based on the bias of one person towards another, quickly becomes a hate crime. A hurtful video game which rewards players who beat or kill homeless characters can quickly devolve into a crime of actual physical violence and hate. The taunting of people seeking refuge from the cold can overnight turn into a bias motivated act of hate-filled violence.

NCH believes that the eradication of hate crimes can only occur if there is a complete understanding and accounting of these crimes. Furthermore, there must be a willingness to challenge the motivations of people who choose to ignore the very existence of these crimes.

Each year, NCH releases a Hate Crimes against the Homeless Report. NCH invites you to read this year’s report, Violence Hidden in Plain View, a factual accounting of bias motivated crimes against un-housed individuals in the order of their occurrence. It is also a report that, in its entirety, illustrates the deadly consequences of decades of failed housing policies and social reforms.

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