HOMELESS PEOPLE CALL ON GREENSBORO’S CITY COUNCIL TO REPEAL UNCONSTITUTIONAL LAWS THAT CRIMINALIZE HOMELESSNESS AND TO CREATE A NEW COMMISSION ON POVERTY
The Homeless Union of Greensboro is calling on the City of Greensboro to repeal the City’s unconstitutional panhandling and loitering ordinances, and establish a city-wide commission to address systemic poverty in Greensboro. The Greensboro City Council has promised to vote on these issues during the City Council meeting on April 24th, 2018.
At the last City Council meeting on April 3rd, 2018, nine Greensboro residents spoke against the City’s panhandling and loitering ordinances, claiming the laws criminalize necessary and life sustaining behavior such as begging (panhandling) and resting (loitering), and violate the First Amendment rights of people who ask others for assistance in times of need. The speakers representing the Homeless Union of Greensboro—a recently formed group made up of people experiencing homelessness and their supporters—asked that the City fully repeal the current ordinances which regulate panhandling and loitering, and establish a new commission to address systemic poverty in Greensboro.
During that meeting, city council members asked if the current panhandling and loitering ordinances were constitutional, to which the City Attorney, Tom Curruthers, replied that after reviewing relevant case law, he believed the City’s ordinances were unconstitutional and would not stand up to scrutiny in court. Due to procedural matters, the council chose to delay any vote on the current ordinances until the following council meeting. Mayor Nancy Vaughan and others promised to reach out to constituents and then vote whether to repeal the current ordinances at the next meeting.
Marcus Hyde, an organizer for the Homeless Union of Greensboro, said of laws which criminalize poverty, “These laws are unnecessary and cruel to people who suffer through poverty and homelessness. They’re costly to tax payers who have to pay for jail and court costs. That money should be spent on housing and job creation. Criminalization is also counterproductive because tickets, jail time, and arrest records make it more difficult for people to find safe and decent housing. Homelessness only ends with a home – nothing else.”
According to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, 100% of federal court cases challenging panhandling laws since 2014 have been decided in favor of plaintiffs seeking to strike down local ordinances. A group of 4 local Greensboro lawyers wrote to city council members on April 23, 2018 stating: “There is growing consensus within the courts that panhandling ordinances are unconstitutional.” And, “The legal prospects for a replacement panhandling law are grave. There is no known panhandling law that will not potentially subject the City to litigation.”*
“When residents of this city experience poverty and catastrophes,” Marcus Hyde said, “they need to know that they won’t be left behind—that the community is here to help them. The tornado we just experienced is one such catastrophe that is beyond any one person’s control, but so is systemic poverty and the affordable housing crisis that cities across the nation—including Greensboro—are experiencing. That’s why we are asking the City to establish a Poverty Commission that includes representation of people from directly impacted communities, so that we can make sure the priorities of poor people are at the forefront of the conversation.”
The Homeless Union of Greensboro is campaigning for the City to establish a commission to advise the City on policy that would address the needs of low-income people across Greensboro and help eradicate systemic poverty. Mayor Vaughan expressed support during the April 3rd council meeting for a new commission that focuses on poverty issues. The Homeless Union is asking that low-income and homeless people be involved from the beginning in the designing and implementation of the new commission to ensure that the commission board has a functioning majority of low-income people, and that it focuses on root causes of poverty, rather than “band-aids” or laws which ultimately push low-income people out of public spaces.
“This is about making sure the city is working with our community,” said Melba Lipscomb, another organizer with the Homeless Union “rather than making decisions which affect our community without any poor people at the decision-making table. The Homeless Union is only growing in numbers, and we refuse to be ignored.”
The media and the public are welcome to join the Homeless Union of Greensboro for a press conference on Tuesday, April 24th at 12:30pm at the Governmental Plaza – located outside the north entrance of Greensboro’s City Hall – 110 S Greene St Greensboro, NC 27401.
*Please See Attached Letter from Greensboro Attorneys regarding Panhandling and loitering ordinances.