• Homeless Union of GSO

Poor People Sue the City of Greensboro over Unconstitutional and Cruel Panhandling Law

For Immediate Release:

Poor People Sue the City of Greensboro over Unconstitutional and Cruel Panhandling Law

Press Contact:

Marcus Hyde




Press Conference: August 8th – 2:30 PM

Where: Legal Aid of North Carolina Office

122 N Elm St #700

Greensboro, NC 27401

Who: ACLU of North Carolina, Legal Aid of North Carolina, and the Homeless Union of Greensboro

August 8th, 2018 –

Three people who have experienced homelessness, and The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, have filed a federal lawsuit seeking to block a Greensboro ordinance that criminalizes “aggressive” panhandling and many activities protected by the First Amendment.

The plaintiffs are being represented by the American Civil Liberties (ACLU) of North Carolina, Legal Aid of North Carolina and the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty. The groups say that Greensboro’s ordinance violates the free speech, equal protection, and due process rights of people who ask for contributions in public places in the city.

“We all agree that no one wants to see people begging for help, but the answer is to remove their need to beg, not to punish them for asking,” said Eric Tars, senior attorney at the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit.

“We told the city council that 100 percent of similar ordinances have been struck down by courts—25 of 25 since 2015. Greensboro residents who want to see something done about panhandling should be outraged that, rather than implementing housing strategies that work, their Councilmembers are wasting time and resources passing unconstitutional laws that don’t.”

The Homeless Union of Greensboro first challenged the city to repeal its panhandling laws in February. After months of debate, the council voted to replace its old panhandling ordinance with a new “Aggressive Solicitation” ordinance on July 24th, despite the city’s own counsel informing them that the law was most likely unconstitutional.

Under threat of litigation, the city had hired Parker Poe, a law firm out of Raleigh, NC, and paid them over $32,000 to help draft an ordinance which could withstand constitutional scrutiny. The law firm drafted an alternative “harassment” ordinance which failed to get enough votes to pass at the council meeting on July 24th. The council instead approved the current “aggressive solicitation” ordinance on a 5-4 vote. In explaining the problems with the current ordinance, Mac McCarley, an attorney for Parker Poe, told the council, “If you call it solicitation, you’ve now made it content-based, and that’s the thing that triggers a level of review by the Supreme Court that it will never withstand.”

“Members of the Homeless Union are engaged in this lawsuit because homeless people still have constitutional rights, and because our city needs to get its priorities straight,” said Marcus Hyde, an organizer with the Homeless Union of Greensboro. “If we want to reduce homelessness or panhandling downtown, we ought to be focusing on housing and living wages. Criminalizing poor people because of their economic status only perpetuates poverty, and it wastes lots of ­­­­tax dollars.”

Read the complaint here: https://www.acluofnorthcarolina.org/sites/default/files/de.1_complaint.pdf

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