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Posts Tagged ‘Criminalization’

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Subsequently, the Royal Oaks ordinance has been repealed and replaced with a prohibition on “aggressive” panhandling.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 Spring Interns and why they’re excited to be here

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Uncategorized

NCH has the honor of working with so many talented interns each semester, read below examples of why they volunteer their time:

Sundal Ali, George Washington University ‘15

As a child, homelessness was not apparent to me. I grew up in Carrollton, TX, a small city a half hour outside downtown Dallas, where many of the social welfare issues were obscure and hidden. As a result, I came to Washington, DC with a sheltered perspective of the world. Homelessness was, and still is, running rampant in the streets of DC, home to the nation’s capital. During the day, the White House is a tourist attraction, crowded with tourists and workers but at night, the benches in front of the White House become coveted living spaces for the homeless.

For decades this grave social injustice has flourished on the streets of one of the strongest and most powerful nations in the world, and even now, not enough is being done to ensure housing for all of America’s citizens. How is it, that a nation with abundant weapons in its arsenal, enough funds in its pockets and an overwhelming number of people in its bureaucracy, cannot solve this crisis?

This paradox triggered action.

After attending a Faces of Homelessness Speakers’ Bureau panel, I was secure in my decision to apply to be an intern at the National Coalition for the Homeless. Working at NCH has shattered my sheltered perspective of our world, in a beneficial way. Because of my internship at NCH, I am more attuned to social crises, more aware of growing national concerns and most importantly, a more passionate advocate for the homeless. I am in a position where I can aid in protecting and promoting NCH’s goal to ensure the human right to housing and shelter. Devoting my time to help prevent returning veterans from Iraq or Afghanistan from becoming homeless, to help prevent more children experiencing homelessness at such a young age, to help prevent the criminalization of homeless people—  all of this, makes my time as an intern at NCH worthwhile. NCH has been working vigorously for decades to establish and protect every individual’s right to housing and shelter and I am privileged to be a part of their team to help accomplish their goal of Bringing America Home.

Jose Morales, American University ’13

I was born and raised in Bronx for ten years. Living in the New York metropolitan area exposes you to how deep the homeless crisis really is. I couldn’t go more than a block without seeing another person without a home, living off the sidewalk and any spare change. When I moved to Washington, DC two years ago to attend American University, I saw more of the same, even in neighborhoods considered the “nice” part of the District.  I was lucky enough to get out of the city ten years ago and into a permanent home, which helped me do really well in school and prepare myself for college.

Ever since the economic downturn, it’s been impossible to avoid the effects of homelessness in any major city. And I know that we can do more as citizens to help. So much of this nation’s homeless population is not comprise of the drug dealers or mentally ill, but children, students, and hard-working Americans who haven’t had a fair shake at life. I’m a junior in college now, and I truly believe that that is not better time than the present to stand up against the criminalization of homeless and poverty. I see no reason why young people from all sides of the political and socioeconomic spectrum can’t come together and put forward sensible protections for civil rights, fiscally responsible affordable housing policy, and better education of what homelessness really is outside of Hollywood’s depictions.

It’s time for my generation to stop complaining about the problems we will have to deal with. It’s time to meet them and defeat them. Homelessness is one of these challenges.

The National Coalition for the Homeless is dedicated helping everyone—especially the students of my generation and the next—get back on their feet to fulfill their potential by getting them in permanent housing and then some. And they’ve done it before. Neil, Megan, and Michael have all helped to structure and display such an impressive non-profit that stays true to its mission in a climate that has become increasingly cynical.  It’s an honor to intern here for however long, even if just to say that I am a part of the solution.

Will Hernandez, Dartmouth ’14

I decided to volunteer my time with the National Coalition for the Homeless because homelessness is an issue that is easily ignored and forgotten in this country.  This seems almost unimaginable with the recent foreclosure crisis and millions of people being homeless each year.  It is easy to ignore homeless people due to the common myth that all homeless people are in there situation due to their lack of hard-work or their bad economic decisions.

I hope to bring more awareness to this issue as well as develop a new perspective for those people who are in dire times and need any support we can muster.  I want to learn about the current homeless policies that are making a huge difference in their respective localities and learn why destructive policies are not very effective for the targeted population. So far, I have been able to research different events and programs produced by different advocacy groups and critically analyze how these events benefit the homeless populations.

As a future hopeful for a Congressional seat, I know that working with the homeless and the National Coalition will provide me with great insights on how to deal with large epidemics that are great hurting America and more importantly, to listen and learn directly from those people who are suffering the most.

Thank you to Sundal, Jose, Will (and Tessa!) for their great work this semester, and for being a part of Bringing America Home!

The 10 Most Ridiculous Anti-Homeless Laws – Part II

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Awareness, Civil Rights, Criminalization, Food Sharing, Tent Cities

The National Coalition for the Homeless would like to offer a preview of our upcoming report on the criminalization of homelessness by choosing the top ten most ridiculous anti-homeless policies enacted in cities across America. Our criminalization report will offer narratives for many more cities and occurrences than the ones listed here, as well as rank the nation’s ten “meanest” cities. This post counts down our choices for the 5 most ridiculous anti-homeless laws/actions. An earlier article ranking policies 10 through 6 is available.

10 Most Ridiculous Anti-Homeless Laws
~From 2010 through June 2011~

 5. Panhandling Bans – Multiple Cities

A rapidly increasing number of cities are designating areas where it is illegal to ask for any item of value. In Miami FL, for instance, panhandling is not allowed around American Airlines Arena and other tourist-heavy areas. Dallas TX also banned panhandling in popular tourist destinations in preparation for hosting the Super Bowl. Some cities, like St. Petersburg FL, even issued bans that cover the entire city.

Despite laws already being in place to guard against “aggressive” panhandling and asking for help clearly being a first amendment right, the courts have had mixed conclusions on these ordinances. An appellate court in New York said that such bans are unconstitutional, while panhandling bans for certain areas, such as around ATM’s and banks, were upheld in Minneapolis MN.

Oakland Park FL decided to take their roadway panhandling ban a step further: not only is it illegal to ask for anything of value, it is also illegal to give. In the name of traffic safety, anyone caught giving to or purchasing something from anybody on the road can face either a fine of $50 to $100 or up to 90 days in jail.

4. Camping Bans – Multiple Cities

Some cities, including Anchorage AK and Kansas City MO, have passed “anti-camping” ordinances and are destroying homeless camps both within metropolitan areas, such as those under bridges and in abandoned lots, and deep within parks and forests. Many municipalities interpret “camping” to mean setting up structures such as tents, while others will issue citations for simply using a sleeping bag because it provides shelter from the elements. For example, Salt Lake City UT has produced horror stories of people receiving camping citations for sitting on their backpack in a park.

Police “sweeps” of homeless camps, which are intended to clear out residents and their makeshift shelters, have resulted in the loss of very important property, such as medication, birth certificates, ID, and personal mementos. Due to legal challenges nationwide, like one in Portland OR and another in Sacramento CA, many cities that perform these sweeps have instituted systems to provide warning time to campers and to retain their seized belongings for a fixed period of time. Without this process, numerous homeless victims have illegally lost what little property they had, and even with it many more still stand to lose their belongings due to the difficulty of retrieving it. Ultimately, these crackdowns on homeless camps only waste taxpayer money and cause unnecessary hardship in order to move the problem of homelessness instead of solve it by providing adequate access to housing and services.

3. Sit/Lie Ban – San Francisco, California

“Stand up for the right to sit down!” This is the rally cry of those who are protesting a San Francisco ordinance that makes it illegal to sit or lie down on the city’s sidewalks between 7 am and 11 pm. The city claims that the ordinance is intended to limit panhandling and to reduce San Francisco’s homeless population by discouraging homeless people from living there. Opponents say that it is unconstitutional to force somebody to walk and stand all day simply because they have nowhere to go. Similar ordinances exist in cities across the country, including Austin TX, Seattle WA, and Reno NV to name a few.

2. Food Sharing Limits – Orlando, Florida

Since when is it illegal to give somebody food? In Orlando FL, it has been since April 2011, when a group of activists lost a court battle against the city to overturn its 2006 laws that restrict sharing food with groups of more than 25 people. The ordinance requires those who do these “large” charitable food sharings in parks within two miles of City Hall to obtain a permit and limits each group to two permits per park for a year. Food sharing is considered to be a form of speech, but the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the ordinance still provides ample areas for groups to practice their first amendment rights because they can still share food elsewhere in the city.

The law was not enforced during the legal battle, but after the lawsuit against the city failed, Orlando began cracking down on those who chose to defy the ordinance, resulting in multiple arrests of activists from Food Not Bombs. “‘They basically carted them off to jail for feeding hungry people,’ said [Douglas Coleman from Orlando Food Not Bombs]. ‘For them to regulate a time and place for free speech and to share food, that is unacceptable.’”

Food sharing prohibitions are far from a new development and are not only found in Orlando. In 2010, NCH and the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty released a report on the growing popularity of these ordinances.

1. Sleeping Bans – Multiple Cities

Many city ordinances that ban public sleeping, like one in Santa Cruz CA, refer to all sleeping in public as “camping,” but the act of camping is interpreted in this article to be the use of personal shelter, such as a tent, and those laws are addressed in #4 of this list. Number one on our countdown is focused on ordinances that strictly ban all public sleeping outright, which includes cities such as Santa Cruz that make sleeping outside illegal in a de facto manner via a “camping” ordinance’s broad interpretation and enforcement.

No other type of law can quite compare to these bans when it comes to the overt criminalization of homelessness: it is undeniable that people experiencing homelessness are the only segment of the population commonly affected by ordinances that do not allow sleeping outside. To exacerbate the problem, many places with these laws, like Ashland OR, simply do not have enough shelter and services to offer violators.

Thankfully, courts have usually required cities with these ordinances to have enough shelter space available for every offender, as was the case in San Diego CA. But this policy ignores that shelters, which usually have curfews, tough crowds, and crammed beds, are not necessarily the most desirable places to live, so many people would much rather stay on the street than in what are sometimes “jail-like” places. And all too often the homeless have no choice: in St. Petersburg FL, those caught sleeping on the sidewalk are told that they can either go to a shelter or a real jail, denying them the option of avoiding systematic and strict harboring altogether. In the end, these policies can severely hurt people experiencing homelessness, resulting in jail time, outstanding fines, and a restriction of their freedoms.

For more information on the criminalization of homelessness, you can visit our 2009 Homes Not Handcuffs Report and our 2010 report on Food Sharing Prohibitions.

By Daniel Honeycutt, NCH Intern

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