ACLU of Texas files suit against city of Houston over ban to stop homeless tents, panhandling

By Russell Boniface | May 25, 2017

HOUSTON – The ACLU of Texas announced on May 15 that it has sued the city of Houston over its encampment and panhandling ordinances.

The ordinances ban sleeping in tents and boxes and panhandling 8 feet from someone on sidewalks.

The ACLU claims the city of Houston's camping and panhandling ordinances criminalize being homeless in Houston. The ACLU of Texas filed the lawsuit on behalf of three homeless people who panhandle and sleep in tents. The ordinances went into effect on May 12.

The ACLU charges the ordinances illegally deprive homeless Houstonians of shelter and infringe on their right to free speech.

In a recent press release, Trisha Trigilio, staff attorney for the ACLU of Texas, said the ordinances abandon the humane approach that Houston has taken to reduce homelessness.

“The city says they’re meant to get people into shelters with ‘tough love,’ but the truth is the shelters are full and Houston’s homeless have nowhere else to go,” said Trigilio.

The ordinances also make it illegal for homeless people to have belongings that don’t fit into a container 3 feet tall, have a grill, and block sidewalks.

The lawsuit requests an injunction prohibiting the tent ban and panhandling bans, as well as the seizure of homeless persons’ private property

“Laws that criminalize homelessness are ineffective, waste limited public resources and violate basic human and constitutional rights,” said Maria Foscarinis, executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, in a recent press release. “The Law Center shares the ACLU's concerns that Houston's new ordinances governing outdoor camping and panhandling violate homeless persons' constitutional rights.”

The ACLU refused to make any further comment beyond its press release.

The city of Houston claims that the ordinances are required for public safety.

Violators of the Houston ordinances will be fined $500 and charged with a misdemeanor.

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