The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas issued a Temporary Restraining Order against the City of Houston for citing homeless people under its new anti-camping ban. The ACLU of Texas, Dechert law firm, and the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty filed the motion for TRO last week after police raided a homeless encampment. The order is can be viewed here.
Check out this quote from the order's conclusion:
"The plaintiffs have demonstrated that they are subject to a credible threat of being arrested, booked, prosecuted and jailed for violating the City of Houston’s ban on sheltering in public. The evidence is conclusive that they are involuntarily in public, harmlessly attempting to shelter themselves—an act they cannot realistically forgo, and that is integral to their status as unsheltered homeless individuals. Enforcement of the City’s ban against the plaintiffs may, therefore, cause them irreparable harm by violating their Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment due to their status of “homelessness.” Robinson, 370 U.S. at 666–67. Moreover, there is no evidence that the City will suffer harm if a restraining order were issued, thereby, preserving the status quo that existed prior to the issuance of citations."
In a strange juxtaposition, the City of Houston said that this law would reduce aggressive panhandling? I have no idea how these two ideas are connected, but surprisingly no rainbows with pots of gold would result with this anti-camping law. The shelters are all full in Houston with the average wait for a bed with only five shelters available. "The emergency shelters in Houston are full and have been so for years [Id. At 67 para. 16-17]. Therefore, homeless individuals wait in lines, daily, at the five shelters for any available space only to be turned away for lack of space. [Id. at pp. 75-76 para. 3-4]."
This is only a temporary ruling to prevent further tickets for "sheltering in public" while this case is litigated in Federal Court, but there is strong powerful language in the restraining order.
In another case detailed by the Associated Press, the US Appeals Court has decided that day laborers are free to flag down motorists to solicit work.
NEW YORK (AP) -- A federal appeals court says day laborers in a Long Island town have a First Amendment right to solicit passing drivers for jobs. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday struck down a 2009 law banning the solicitation in Oyster Bay. The law had never been enforced. Here is a link to the full article.
This could doom the new City of Cleveland law regarding panhandling toward passing motorists. In June 2017, the City removed its "aggressive panhandling law" and replaced it with a law prohibiting flagging down cars to solicit money. A good civil rights attorney could make the case that panhandlers have the same First Amendment right to free speech as the day laborers. Look for this to be the next front in the struggle for free speech.
Special to NEOCH from Brian Davis
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