The American Civil Liberties Union is suing the City of Houston over the recent homeless ordinance championed by Mayor Sylvester Turner. The organization is filing the lawsuit on behalf of three homeless residents claiming the ordinance violates their rights.
In an effort to crack down on “tent cities” and aggressive panhandling, city council passed ordinances in April that prohibit camping on city property and the obstruction of city roads and sidewalks while panhandling.
Concerned residents neighboring the “tent cities” are urging council to take action as the homeless encampments are a sanitary hazard and public safety concern. Under the new ordinance, homeless individuals are required to cull their belongings down to what can fit in a three square foot container or face a fine.
The ordinance came swiftly under fire from the ACLU, which sued the city, stating that, “Houston’s camping ban effectively criminalizes homelessness in violation of the Constitution.”
The lawsuit seeks an injunction against the city concerning the camping and panhandling bans and the confiscation of homeless people’s property that don’t fit into the three square foot containers provided by the Houston Police Department.
“Taken together, these ordinances illegally deprive homeless Houstonians of shelter, infringe on their right to free speech, and ultimately constitute a criminalization of homelessness itself,” the ACLU said in a statement.
However, Turner has defended the ordinance, arguing that it strikes a balance between the public safety concerns of local residents and compassion for the homeless. While HPD works to enforce the camping ban and get people off the streets, the city is planning to expand public housing to accommodate at least 500 more homeless individuals.
“Based on my reading of the lawsuit filed by the ACLU, they would ask us to do nothing,” Turner said at a press conference. “Make no mistake this is a public safety issue, we can’t bury our heads in the sand and pretend it doesn’t exist, because it does.”