[Hpn] Group to investigate city's homeless rules; Dallas, Texas; 7/23/02
Morgan W. Brown
Tue, 23 Jul 2002 08:09:36 -0400
Tuesday, July 23, 2002
Dallas Morning News <http://www.dallasnews.com>
[Dallas - Fort Worth, Texas]
Local News section
Group to investigate city's homeless rules
By KENDALL ANDERSON / The Dallas Morning News
Sitting on a public bench or concrete ledge or having a smoke outside the
library in downtown Dallas is a risky proposition, some local homeless
people and their advocates say.
Such concerns, along with tangible signs of restricted public space
downtown, have drawn the attention of the National Coalition for the
Homeless, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group that has a history of
helping organize protests and filing lawsuits in other cities.
The group plans to visit Dallas on Monday to investigate stepped-up police
enforcement and other city measures affecting the homeless. Group members
will conduct public meetings for homeless people and their advocates and
will meet with the local branch of the American Civil Liberties Union.
"We run into cities that are under the misconception that criminalizing
homeless people is going to make them go away," said Lisa Davis, the
coalition's civil rights organizer. "We are very concerned about the
behavior of the city of Dallas."
A large protest and a lawsuit against the city followed a coalition visit to
Covington, Ky. The group, run by a former homeless man, visited Covington to
investigate the city's removal of homeless people and their belongings from
a public riverbank.
Dallas City Council member Lois Finkelman, chairwoman of the city's Health,
Environment and Human Services Committee, acknowledged that Dallas needs to
do a better job.
"There is a recognition perhaps that we have not been enforcing the laws as
evenly as we ought to," she said. "The police have indicated they are going
to do a better job of making sure all their officers are aware of what the
rights of the homeless are. ... Everyone should be treated fairly."
City Attorney Madeleine Johnson said she recently asked top police officials
to keep lower-ranking officers informed about what they should and should
not do in fairly enforcing laws and ordinances.
Mayor Laura Miller "is concerned about allegations of selective enforcement
or mistreatment of the homeless population," her spokesman said.
"Mayor Miller and others are in the early stages of figuring out how to best
handle the situation in Dallas, keeping in mind the importance of trying to
revitalize downtown Dallas and being sensitive to the needs of the homeless
population," spokesman Crayton Webb said.
Downtown business owners have complained repeatedly about homeless people
lingering or leaving trash. Dallas officials have tried to appease merchants
and help the homeless, with mixed results.
City officials began enforcing a street-feeding ordinance in March,
requiring those giving food to serve it at certain temperatures and
conditions. But when church groups and the homeless criticized the move as
an effort to drive the homeless away, officials stopped the enforcement.
Ms. Miller recently called for a ban on panhandling. And the city attorney
met this month with police regarding police sweeps.
Those sweeps keep the city clean and safe, Lt. David Goldbeck has said.
Tommy Stone, who is working to get off the streets, said Dallas' 4,000
homeless people don't have full access to public space.
Mr. Stone, who is in transitional housing through a program funded in part
by the city, said he was doing research in the library one day when he went
outside to smoke a cigarette. Once outside, he said, police immediately
asked him to leave.
Threat of arrest
"They informed me that I either left or would be arrested for loitering," he
said in a signed, notarized affidavit taken by homeless advocate Clora
Hogan. "I explained that I had been upstairs and was going back. ... I
pointed to someone wearing a suit, talking on a cellphone and smoking and
stated that I would go to jail when they arrested him."
Mr. Stone was not arrested.
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Morgan W. Brown
Montpelier Vermont USA
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