Lawsuit against city may continue even after panhandling ordinance replaced

HOMELESS UNION LOGO SIMPLE.png**

*For Immediate Release:*

*Lawsuit and Community Efforts Push the Greensboro City Council to
Repeal Unconstitutional Laws – *

*But Struggle Continues with the Enactment of Three New Anti-Homeless
Ordinances*

*Press Contact: *

Marcus Hyde

303-507-8065

homelessuniongso@gmail.com <mailto:homelessuniongso@gmail.com>

*“Like throwing noodles at a wall to see what sticks – some members of
Greensboro City Council are trying to ram through any kind of law they
can, and hope that they don’t wind up in litigation over it.”*

*August 14^th , 2018 –*After 3 members of the Homeless Union of
Greensboro, along with The National Law Center on Homelessness &
Poverty, the ACLU of North Carolina and North Carolina Legal Aid filed a
federal lawsuit against the City of Greensboro, challenging the cities
newly adopted “Aggressive Solicitation” ordinance on August 8th,
Greensboro City Council called for a special session to repeal the
ordinance and avoid taking the case to trial.

On August 14^th , Greensboro City Council did repeal the “Aggressive
Solicitation” ordinance – more commonly known as the panhandling
ordinance – along with several other laws, but also chose to implement
three new laws which are meant to target and criminalize poor and
homeless folks.

The federal lawsuit, filed by the National Law Center on Homelessness
and Poverty, ACLU of NC, and NC Legal Aid, may continue as lawyers asked
to be compensated for damages for their clients and attorney’s fees.
Furthermore, the newly enacted laws, which were drafted by attorneys of
the Parker Poe Law Firm, may also be subject to challenges by the
community.

Whatever law remains on the books, people experiencing homelessness in
Greensboro have testified to a barrage of extra-judicial harassment from
local police who have used any and every excuse possible to issue “move
along” orders and issue citations for petty “quality of life” crimes. As
a result, the Homeless Union of Greensboro has asked that instead of
passing new ordinances that criminalize basic activities protected by
the First Amendment, that the city pass ordinances which protect the
rights of all citizens, including people experiencing homelessness, and
put funding towards initiatives that could help reduce homelessness,
such as low income housing programs.

The Homeless Union has given the city language for a Police Protocol
Ordinance modeled after a similar ordinance in Duluth, MN, as well as
“Right to Survive” ordinance language, which would protect homeless
people from being arrested for engaging in life sustaining behaviors
such as resting. The Homeless Union also asked the city to implement a
review period of any new ordinances to ensure that homeless folks are
not the only people targeted by local ordinances.

To the city council’s credit, they agreed to the review period, but have
yet to commit to any legislation that would protect poor people’s rights.

The unconstitutional laws which the city repealed are listed as follows:

·Sec. 20-1. Regulations of Solicitation in Public Places

·Sec. 16-9. – Soliciting business, etc., in streets.

·Sec. 18-44. – Loitering.

·Sec. 18-46. – Loitering for the purpose of engaging in drug-related
activity.

In turn, the city replaced these ordinances with three wholly new
ordinances, which the public has hardly had any discussion or knowledge of:

·Sec. 18-44. – Blocking or Impeding Street and Sidewalk Access

·Sec. 18-46.1 – Solicitation and Distribution of Items in Public Parking
Garages and Public Parking Lots Prohibited

·Sec. 18-46.2. – Harassment in Public Spaces Prohibited

It is unclear as to how effective these laws will be in curbing
panhandling, harassment, or any other activity that people may find
annoying. But, it is apparent that none of these issues will address
actual safety concerns, and that they are overwhelmingly duplicative of
existing state and local laws. Furthermore, the laws themselves are
presumptively unconstitutionally vague and allow for too much arbitrary
and discriminatory policing to occur.

The council’s intentions have been clear. Whatever law they passed, they
intended to create some tool to move homeless people out of downtown. As
council comments have made clear, the city hired Parker Poe Law Firm,
and paid them over $32,000 with the goal in mind to draft some new
ordinance which made something associated with panhandling illegal.

But, in order to limit the rights of citizens (homeless or otherwise),
either through speech limitations or limitations on homeless people’s
movements, courts have ruled that the government must meet an incredibly
high burden of proof (called “strict scrutiny”) in order to legitimately
say two things: First, that there is a compelling government interest,
such as public safety, causing the city to limit individual rights, and
secondly, that the government limited the ‘least amount of speech
possible’ through its restrictions.

In a ruling issued earlier in the day on August 14^th , Judge William
Lindsay Osteen Jr., stated that, “after review of the affidavits and
pleadings, this court finds that Plaintiffs have established a
persuasive case that Section 20-1 [the “Aggressive Solicitation
Ordinance”] is a content-based restriction on Plaintiffs’ right to free
speech…. Content-based restrictions are “presumptively
unconstitutional,” …and must satisfy strict scrutiny”

Furthermore, the Judge pointed out that “the evidence is sparse, at
best, as to whether the City of Greensboro has a compelling interest
which might justify Section 20-1.”

Hence, although the court denied the plaintiffs’ motion for a Temporary
Restraining Order against the city today, this should not be
misconstrued as the courts final word on the matter. Since 2014, 25 out
of 25 federal cases challenging panhandling restrictions have succeeded
in striking those ordinances down, despite no Temporary Restraining
Orders having been granted in any of those suites. Furthermore, the
lawsuit against the city has not been decided on its merits, and will
continue unless plaintiffs drop the suite, settle through negotiations
with the City of Greensboro or ask the court for a summary judgement.
The burden of proof remains on the city to prove that the law they
enacted served a compelling government interest, was the least
restrictive means available to them, and did not ultimately violate the
rights of Greensboro’s residents.

“Like throwing noodles at a wall to see what sticks,” explained Marcus
Hyde, an organizer with the Homeless Union of Greensboro, “…some members
of Greensboro City Council are trying to ram through any kind of law
they can and hope that they don’t wind up in litigation over it. But we
know their intent is to criminalize homelessness, and move ‘certain
kinds of people’ out of downtown. Too bad, we’re here to stay – law or
no law.”