[Hpn] Group to investigate city's homeless rules; Dallas, Texas; 7/23/02

Morgan W. Brown norsehorse@hotmail.com
Tue, 23 Jul 2002 08:09:36 -0400

-------Forwarded article-------

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."

Fair treatment

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.

Trash complaints

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.

Police sweeps

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.

E-mail kanderson@dallasnews.com


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Morgan <norsehorse@hotmail.com>
Morgan W. Brown
Montpelier Vermont USA

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