Add the ACLU to questions about Little Rock ordinance to stop homeless feeding | Arkansas Blog

Add the ACLU to questions about Little Rock ordinance to stop homeless feeding

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City Manager Bruce Moore told me earlier today there'd be no vote Tuesday on an ordinance aimed at discouraging public park feeding of the homeless by requiring a permit for such free meals and limiting them to two per park a year.

But, as I noted earlier, opposition is rising and several have noted lawsuits in other cities — and even an attorney general's opinion by Mark Pryor some years ago — that indicate religious and free association constitutional protections can be raised against city laws that go too far to punish the homeless simply for being homeless or to restrict services to them.

Now comes the ACLU of Arkansas with a letter to Little Rock officials raising similar points.

The letter says passage of the ordinance would lead to litigation against the city for violation of constitutional rights of freedom of assembly and association and religious rights of those who provide or receive services.

The ACLU letter, from legal counsel Holly Dickson, acknowledges "at least the perception" of an increase in panhandling since a federal court struck down the Arkansas anti-begging law last year. The law was was shameful, she said, and forced people out of public places into private areas. Now, people are coming out of the shadows. "Homelessness, poverty and food insecurity are once again more visible in our public spaces and on public sidewalks across the state."

The ordinance, the letter said, would "eradicate any sort of reliable feeding services in public parks and spaces. It would preclude food support that is accessible via public transportation, including the downtown bus terminal. It would burden the few providers who use their limited resources in Little Rock to do as much as they can to fill the gaps in existing city, county and state services."

The ACLU also is concerned about other city actions against the homeless.

It reports hearing that some city officials want to again criminalize begging, which the law doesn't allow and which would be contested if arrests resumed. The ACLU is also "troubled" by the eviction of homeless from tents on private property where the city may have acted without a request or consent by private property owners. All this is "tugging Little Rock in the absolute wrong direction." The ACLU urged the city to work on constructive solutions to the problems of homelessness.

Here's the full letter.

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