Miami, Fla. – Today a coalition of Florida civil rights and legal groups, in a national campaign supported by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, sent letters to the following local governments demanding they repeal their ban on panhandling: Alachua County, Fort Lauderdale, Hollywood, Lake Worth, Miami Beach, Ocala, Polk County, and St. Petersburg.
Since the 2015 Supreme Court decision in Reed v. Town of Gilbert finding heightened protections for free speech, 100 percent of lawsuits against cities with panhandling bans have been successful in striking down the bans. More than 25 challenged ordinances, including many with language similar to these cities’ and counties’ ordinances, have been declared unconstitutional by federal courts. In Florida, Tampa’s panhandling ordinance was struck down by a federal judge, and Miami’s ordinance was held unconstitutional by a state appeals court.
“The right to free speech is guaranteed to us all,” said Jacqueline Azis, staff attorney at the ACLU of Florida. “Cities cannot ban speech simply because some would rather not hear it. It is inhumane to punish individuals for being poor and for asking for charity. Our leaders should focus on addressing the underlying causes of homelessness and not waste taxpayer dollars or police resources on enforcing and defending ordinances that clearly violate the First Amendment.”
Courts increasingly recognize that panhandling ordinances infringe on important free speech rights, specifically the right to engage fellow human beings with the hope of receiving aid and compassion.
Kirsten Anderson, director of litigation at Southern Legal Counsel, said that although the letters in Florida targeted eight ordinances, there are dozens of other local governments in Florida that are currently arresting and jailing homeless people for engaging in protected speech.
“Every Florida city and county that has an ordinance prohibiting individuals from requesting aid from fellow human beings should immediately stop enforcement and initiate repeal,” Anderson said. “This is not a solution to homelessness.”
The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, together with the National Coalition for the Homeless and more than 100 other organizations, launched the Housing Not Handcuffs Campaign in 2016 to educate government leaders and the public about the fact that criminalizing homelessness is the most expensive and least effective way of addressing homelessness. The letters sent to Florida cities and counties today are a statewide effort by ACLU of Florida, Southern Legal Counsel, Florida Public Defender Association, Florida Legal Services, National Lawyers Guild South Florida Chapter, and the Housing Umbrella Group. They are part of a nationwide campaign coordinated by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty.
“Punishing homeless people with fines, fees, and arrests simply for asking for help will only prolong their homelessness,” said Maria Foscarinis, executive director at the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty. “Housing and services are the only true solutions to homelessness in our communities.
A copy of the letters sent today is available here: https://www.aclufl.org/en/national-panhandling-ordinances