HOMELESS SWEEPS laws: Who's pushing the broom? [repost]

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Sun, 8 Nov 1998 07:18:55 -0400


"A third of the nation's 500 largest CITIES have passed or are working on
BIILS ON PUBLIC BEHAVIOR, said Robert Teir, a lawyer with roots in
Northeast Philadelphia who is president of the CENTER FOR LIVABLE CITIES, a
Washington-based nonprofit that PROMOTES QUALITY-OF LIFE LEGISLATION."
  -- Philadelphia Inquirer - June 1, 1998

See also CCI Home Page http://www.communityinterest.org/index.htm
This site created by the *Center for the Community Interest, a project of
the American Alliance for Rights & Responsibilities*, Washington, D.C. and
New York, NY.

FWD  http://www.communityinterest.org/backgrounders/panhandling.htm
  This page:
  The Approach 
  The Ordinance 

Backgrounder #1: Aggressive Panhandling


Residents and visitors to many urban centers confront panhandlers every
day. A walk down a major street in cities large and small will likely
result in at least one solicitation by a beggar seeking spare change. A
handful of  streets in almost every city come to resemble an obstacle
course, with citizens dodging and weaving in order to avoid

Many panhandlers go about their business in a passive manner, making a
request or holding out a cup with coins. Others are much more aggressive,
making loud, sometimes repeated demands, or persistently following the
pedestrian down the street after a request has been denied. Additionally,
some beggars chose to beg in places that are particularly intimidating such
as near ATM machines or by confronting motorists at red lights, washing
their windshields without consent and then demanding payment. 

This aggressive begging places the economic and social functions of the
streets and other public places at risk. Where aggressive panhandlers
assemble, people are likely to feel unsafe. If people feel threatened in a
particular place they are likely to avoid the area in the future, resulting
in a decline in business and community life, as well as making the area
ripe for more serious crime. In short, panhandling can be a direct threat
to community life and the economic vitality of an area. 

Although some courts have deemed panhandling to have some constitutional
protection as "speech," communities have substantial leeway in devising
regulations on how and where panhandling may occur. In recent years, dozens
of communities have taken steps to address this problem including:
Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Cincinnati, Seattle, San Francisco, Santa
Barbara, Long Beach, Philadelphia, Sacramento, Raleigh, New Haven, and
Santa Cruz. CCI

Model Ordinance 


Since the Civil Rights struggle of the 1960's, laws regulating public
conduct have been viewed by many as a threat to the constitutional rights
of individuals. Cases from this era were often reactions to the use of old
laws to harass or discriminate against minority groups. These cases were
successful in removing many if the arbitrary and discriminatory laws of the
past, creating equality of opportunity for formerly oppressed groups(1). 

Today these precedents are being used in attempt to override many
legitimate community interests and to elevate numerous individual desires
to the status of rights. These precedents are being used to advocate the
right to colonize public parks, the right to eat and sleep in the public
place of one's
choosing, and the right to beg in any way one pleases. Many municipalities
have drafted narrowly tailored statutes which seek to comply with court
precedent, while also addressing the problems their communities face due to
these extreme rights assertions. Today, some municipalities are going a
step further and seeking to prohibit more types of activity, including
panhandling near the entrance to a building, or even prohibiting
panhandling at night. 

Support of an anti-aggressive panhandling ordinance does not mean that a
municipality is attacking its poor population, or ignoring or demeaning its
plight. Nevertheless a community can insist upon a certain level of conduct
from panhandlers; compassion does not require giving panhandlers free
license. Additionally, many communities have concluded that panhandling --
rather than providing a service to the poor -- feeds and enables addiction
and perpetuates homelessness.(2) 

The AARR ordinance does not seek to prohibit all panhandling. The ordinance
does, however, establish certain reasonable time, place, and manner
restrictions on the conduct of this activity in order to increase public
safety, minimize the harms caused to individuals and the community at
large, and facilitate the use of public spaces for their intended purposes.
This more tailored approach has evolved as older, more general ordinances
designed to prohibit all begging were struck down as a violation of the
First Amendment.


In addition to others' advice on stopping the homeless sweeps, I suggest:

1) For legal advice ontact *ACLU http://www.aclu.org/ and
*National Law Center on Homelessness And Poverty (NLCHP) http://www.nlchp.org/

2) See Homeless People's Network's June Archives postings on
*Philadelphia's Sidewalk Behavior bill.  Note especially the identies and
arguments of the business interests behind the homeless sweeps, and the
fact that faith groups are siding with homeless people's civil rights in

[ http://www.phillynews.com:80/inquirer/98/Jun/04/city/COUN04.htm
FWD  Philadelphia Inquirer - June 4, 1998

City officials said there was no increased effort to rid the city of the
homeless. Charles Pizzi, president of the *Greater Philadelphia Chamber of
Commerce, which lobbied for the bill for two years, said those causing
problems on the streets were a group of "shelter-resistant, largely
drug-addicted" people who commit crimes "that are driving residents and
employers out of the city and keeping visitors from coming back."

Paul Levy, executive director of the *Center City District, said that in a
recent survey his group asked people what could be done to improve
downtown. The most common response was to reduce the number of aggressive
panhandlers. ]

* Center for Livable Cities
* Center for the Community Interest?
*{Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Congress] Coalition on Street Persons
*New York City's Times Square Business Improvement District
*Pew Foundation
The Chamber is working with other civic leaders to establish a designated
court to adjudicate quality-of-life crimes.....
The Pew Foundation issued a $65,000 matching grant and money is being
raised in the business community for an additional $65,000.

[ "A third of the nation's 500 largest cities have passed or are working on
bills on public behavior, said Robert Teir, a lawyer with roots in
Northeast Philadelphia who is president of the CENTER FOR LIVABLE CITIES, a
Washington-based nonprofit that PROMOTES QUALITY-OF LIFE LEGISLATION." --
from article below [emphasis added]

FWD  Philadelphia Inquirer - June 1, 1998