SACRAMENTO – Today the ACLU Foundation of Northern California and Legal Services of Northern California (LSNC) on behalf of the Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness (SRCEH), in a letter sent in partnership with the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, called on the County of Sacramento to repeal its unconstitutional ban on panhandling.
The letter was part of an effort by eighteen organizations in twelve states targeting more than 240 similar anti-panhandling ordinances.
The letter argues that the County of Sacramento’s anti-panhandling law violates people’s First Amendment rights by restricting protected speech. Rather than addressing the root causes of homelessness, the law keeps people impoverished by burdening them with fines and criminal records.
“Free speech is a bedrock principle of our democracy, and it applies to everyone,” said Abre’ Conner, staff attorney for the ACLU Foundation of Northern California. “Ordinances like this accomplish nothing besides further targeting and stigmatizing people who are living in poverty.”
Since the 2015 landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in Reed v. Town of Gilbert that provided for greater free speech protections, every case brought against panhandling ordinances—more than 25 to date — have succeeded in striking down the bans. Recently in a suit filed by the ACLU and LSNC against the City of Sacramento, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction halting enforcement of the city’s anti-panhandling law.
“In light of the recent preliminary injunction against Sacramento City and other federal cases, Sacramento County appears to be in violation of the Constitution,” said Bob Erlenbusch, Executive Director of the Sacramento Regional Coalition on Homelessness. “The County would be better served in focusing on other measures, such as affordable housing and more emergency shelters, rather than criminalizing people who are homeless.”
See www.nlchp.org/panhandling for more information on today’s nationwide campaign.
The Housing Not Handcuffs Campaign was launched in 2016 by The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, along with the National Coalition for the Homeless and more than 100 other organizations in order to end the criminalization of homelessness.