Austin Makes Sitting Illegal

By Richard Troxell

             Members of House the Homeless, Inc. vow to fight back against all repressive laws targeting homeless citizens!  Following a 4-3 City Council vote, five months of debate and numerous protests, House the Homeless have armed its members in the next level of fight in the on going street wars of the “haves” and “have not’s.”

            House the Homeless members contends that the “No Sitting/No Lying Down” Ordinance is a thinly veiled attempt to make an end run around Magistrate Jim Coronado’s and other judges rulings that sleeping and making preparations to sleep are constitutionally protected life sustaining acts.

            Magistrate Jim Coronado had deflated the “No Camping” ordinance when he wrote, “…the petitioners have shown on behalf of their class of homeless that the portion of the ordinance which relates to sleeping in public or making preparations to sleep is a violation of due process.” We believe that “making preparations to sleep include first sitting down and then lying down.

            We know that one of the major reasons we are sleeping (sitting and lying down) on the streets is because there are not adequate alternatives and because the business community uses our labor but won’t pay us a fair wage for our work that would afford us alternatives.  They hide behind the federal minimum of $5.15 per hour and everyone know you can’t get basic housing in Austin or any other city in America at that pay level.  Everyone knows that $5.15 per hour is slave wages and a theft of our labor.

            It’s clear to House the Homeless that this is just one more mean spirited effort to rid the streets of Austin of visibility Homeless.  But House the Homeless observes that the ordinance excluded anyone involved in a “Demonstration.”  So House the Homeless has launched a petition drive, a national campaign and an on-going “Demonstration” to protest these low wages not just in Austin but nationwide.  House the Homeless is arming all homeless citizens with a plastic card that reads: “This is a constitutionally protected First Amendment, free speech demonstration whereby I am preparing to sleep.  I will continue in this expression of free speech/demonstration until all employers pay all minimum wage employees a Universal Living Wage which will allow me to afford basic living facilities of my own choosing.” 

            When confronted by a police officer about sitting or lying down, homeless citizens will have the opportunity to express the First Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution and explain that they are “demonstrating for a Universal Living Wage.

            The University of Texas Criminal Defense Clinic has agreed to defend these tickets on constitutional grounds.  The UT Criminal Defense Clinic has agreed to waive the $30.00 defense clinic fee for all members of House the Homeless.

 Copyright NEOCH published Decmeber 2001 in Cleveland Ohio for Issue 51