Asking for help is not a crime: Lawsuit challenges state and local panhandling restrictions

Saying they have been punished just for asking for help, two men sued state and local officials after being ticketed and prosecuted repeatedly for panhandling in suburban Downers Grove.

The Law Project of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH), ACLU of Illinois, and the law firm of Schiff Hardin allege violations of the men’s First Amendment rights in a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday.

Michael Dumiak and Christopher Simmons have been harassed, ticketed, and prosecuted by local authorities when the men stood on a raised median strip seeking donations from people in vehicles stopped at the intersection of Butterfield and Finley roads. They have not caused safety or traffic problems. Firefighters and others use that median in the same manner to raise money for charitable organizations, but they are not ticketed or prosecuted.

“All I want to do is to ask for help when I need it. I’m not blocking traffic or putting myself at risk – I’m just holding a cardboard sign. If other people and organizations can do it, I should be able to as well,” said Mr. Dumiak.

Mr. Dumiak and Mr. Simmons have been charged under an Illinois statute that makes it a misdemeanor to stand on a median to solicit contributions, employment, business, or rides from passing vehicles. The state statute does not prohibit other interactions with drivers and passengers, such as gathering petition signatures or distributing leaflets. It allows municipalities to exempt certain charities from the law, even as local police enforce it against individuals who ask for money for their own use.

A Downers Grove ordinance similarly prohibits standing on a median strip to solicit funds from vehicles, but expressly exempts some charitable solicitation.

The case comes after the ACLU and CCH sent letters to 19 municipalities in the past year to warn that their panhandling ordinances are unconstitutional.

A 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling made it clear that most laws targeting panhandlers are unconstitutional. Although the case (Reed v. Town of Gilbert) was not about panhandling, the Supreme Court clarified that government regulation of speech based on its subject matter or purpose is almost always unconstitutional. Since Reed was decided, panhandling ordinances across the nation have been repealed or struck down by courts.  To date, 10 Illinois municipalities, including Chicago and Oak Park, have repealed their panhandling ordinances after receiving letters from the ACLU and CCH.

“By choosing to ban only certain topics of speech, the state of Illinois and Downers Grove are unjustly targeting people who need help making ends meet. We are calling on the court to put a stop to this wrongful enforcement,”” said ACLU Senior Staff Attorney Amy Meek.

“Our clients in this case are just two of many homeless people across Illinois who have been targeted by these inhumane and unconstitutional laws. We hope to stop Downers Grove from unjustly criminalizing their speech and affirm that everyone has the right to ask for help,” said CCH Community Lawyer Diane O’Connell.

The case is co-counseled for CCH with Staff Attorney Arturo Hernandez.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District for the Northern District of Illinois. A copy of the complaint can be read here.

Bring Chicago Home: Advocates charge Mayor Lightfoot with breaking promise for major increase in aid to homeless; say she’s resurrecting ‘business as usual’ in city government

Lightfoot’s decision to eliminate funding for homelessness from proposed tax increase on affluent property sales breaches multiple campaign promises

By excluding funding to alleviate homelessness from a plan to raise taxes on property sales in Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot has broken several of the campaign promises that vaulted her into office and raised questions about whether her administration represents the departure from business as usual that she heralded in her bid to run the city, members of the Bring Chicago Home campaign said Tuesday.

Reacting to published reports that Lightfoot intends to seek approval from the Illinois legislature to increase Chicago’s Real Estate Transfer Tax (RETT) on property sales exceeding $1 million and funnel all of the money into the city’s coffers to address a budget shortfall, officials with BCH, a campaign endorsed by more than 70 organizations across the city, said Lightfoot abandoned her promise to use the same revenue source to fund relief for Chicago’s large homeless population.

Chicago Sun-Times, Mark Brown: Homeless advocates ‘deeply disappointed’ by Lightfoot betrayal, shift to ‘business-as-usual’ politics

Meanwhile, by eliminating support for homelessness from her plan without first seeking input from advocates on how she might be able to balance it with the need to shave the city’s budget deficit, Lightfoot strayed from her vow during the campaign to act more collaboratively than her predecessor. Beginning with promises made on the campaign trail, Lightfoot has repeatedly committed to pledge money generated from a RETT increase to fund programs that reduce homelessness.

“The Mayor has not only blatantly abandoned her campaign promise, but also the style of governing that she claimed she would usher into office,” said Doug Schenkelberg, Executive Director of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH), a member of BCH. “Last month she claimed she would work with us to achieve our common goal, but she made no effort to collaborate with us before deciding within weeks to withdraw her support and cut those experiencing homelessness from her plans.  We need this Mayor to restore her commitment to creating a robust and dedicated funding stream to combat homelessness. Otherwise, she’s deserting an already marginalized population who exemplify the kind of Chicagoans she vowed to champion. And that’s just a prescription for business-as-usual in Chicago.”

While Lightfoot had said that Chicago’s burgeoning budget deficit is larger than her predecessor Rahm Emanuel had disclosed, Schenkelberg noted the city has been plagued by a structural imbalance between revenues and debt that predated the Mayoral campaign and shouldn’t absolve Lightfoot from promises she made in the context of the fiscal dilemma.

Backed by 31 aldermen who have publicly expressed support for its proposal during the current Mayoral administration, the BCH campaign has championed a pending resolution in City Council that would increase the RETT on property sales exceeding $1 million to fund reductions in homelessness and an expansion in the city’s woeful scarcity of affordable housing. That measure closely paralleled the plan that Lightfoot had advocated during her campaign.

Under the legislation, more than 94 percent of all property sales in Chicago would be exempt from a proposed increase in the city’s Real Estate Transfer Tax (RETT), closely echoing a concept that Lightfoot, herself, repeatedly prescribed during her campaign for Mayor.

In a June letter addressed to Lightfoot, aldermen who characterized themselves as “strong supporters of a solution to dramatically reduce homelessness in Chicago” asked the Mayor to back the proposal, which would fund services and housing opportunities benefiting the more than 86,000 city residents experiencing homelessness.

“We understand that you are balancing many priorities, but your shared interest in reducing homelessness gives us hope that a plan that would finally achieve this long-sought goal is within reach,” the aldermanic letter stated.

If adopted into law, the measure will remedy a gross shortage of funds that Chicago assigns to combatting homelessness. Its current $15.5 million annual expenditure relief ranks near the bottom of the 10 U.S. cities with the largest homeless populations.

CCH welcomes youth attorney Mary Frances Charlton

Mary Frances Charlton has joined the staff of the Youth Futures mobile legal aid clinic. We asked Mary Frances to introduce herself.

I am thrilled to join CCH’s Law Project as the Youth Health Attorney! In this role, I’ll be providing civil legal representation to Chicago-area youth experiencing homelessness or housing instability and advocating for policies that reduce systemic barriers to health care and public benefits for homeless youth and adults.

Mary Frances Charlton (Photo by Claire Sloss)

Prior to coming to CCH, I worked for a consumer rights law firm, Edelman Combs Latturner & Goodwin, representing consumers in fighting unlawful debt collection and banking practices in both federal and Illinois state courts.

Before that, I spent five years as an attorney with the Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC) in Virginia, where I led the public benefits and health programs. My work at LAJC focused on the Affordable Care Act and ensuring access to public benefits and health care for immigrant families. In addition, I taught law students in the Health Law Clinic and the Employment Law Clinic with the University of Virginia School of Law and supervised those students in representing LAJC clients.

While at LAJC, I served as lead counsel in Manning v. Caldwell, a federal challenge to a Virginia statute which was used to incarcerate homeless individuals experiencing alcohol use disorder. Fortunately, this unjust law was recently held to be unconstitutional as a result of the lawsuit. Litigating that case allowed me to spend a lot of time meeting with clients experiencing homelessness, hearing their stories, and learning from them. It also allowed me to see the countless ways the legal and health care systems are failing our communities.

I believe that dismantling the systems which perpetuate racism and poverty requires a multi-faceted approach, of which litigation is only a small part. This is one of the many great things about CCH: using the power of organizing, direct representation, policy advocacy, and most importantly, lifting up the voices of people most impacted by these unjust systems to bring us closer to justice. It matters what we do and whose voices we elevate. That’s why I’m joining CCH and I’m so incredibly lucky to be doing so.

For a little personal background, I grew up in Oxford, Mississippi, went to college at a Jesuit school called Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama, and got my law degree at American University’s Washington College of Law. Now that I am in Chicago, when not focusing on surviving the winter, I can be found cycling on the lakefront or trying all the delicious food that I can around town with my wife, Bridget.

 

StreetLight Chicago: Book-a-Bed adds access to more youth shelter beds

More beds have been added to Book-a-Bed! The shelter-access feature is offered on StreetLight Chicago, a free mobile app of resources for homeless youth.

Youth can reserve a bed at four overnight youth shelters. In August, La Casa Norte began offering two beds at its Logan Square shelter and five beds at its Back of the Yards shelter.

Eight beds remain available at The Crib on Chicago’s North Side and three beds at Ujima Village on the city’s South Side.

Youth or service providers assisting them can reserve a bed between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. daily. This can be done using either the phone app or a desktop version of StreetLight Chicago. Youth must arrive by 11 p.m. to use a bed for the night.

“Book-a-Bed helps youth who, because of work or classes, cannot attend at-the-door lotteries when shelters open for the evening,” said Beth Malik, associate legal director at CCH and lead attorney for its Youth Futures legal aid clinic.

StreetLight Chicago is a joint project of Youth Futures and the Young Invincibles, backed by generous multi-year support from the VNA Foundation.

Launched in November 2016, more than 3,100 people have downloaded the StreetLight app to date.

StreetLight Chicago offers a database of resources for homeless and unaccompanied youth, ages 16 through 24. The app provides youth with a centralized list of youth drop-in centers, shelters, health clinics, food pantries and services, including Youth Futures’ legal aid. Occasional push notifications are issued when bad weather or program-change alerts are needed.

A desktop version – at www.streetlightchicago.org – has been available since August 2017. It mirrors the app’s resource information, with printable lists and improved navigation for users seeking directions. The website expands access to StreetLight resources for youth without cellphones and makes it easier for service providers to work with youth clients.

Service providers are invited to send any listing or push notification updates to streetlightchicago@gmail.com

– Anne Bowhay, Media

Woodstock first to act, among 8 Illinois municipalities advised to change unconstitutional panhandling ordinances

Update:

Responding to our warning letter, the City Council in north suburban Woodstock voted August 6 to repeal its unconstitutional panhandling ordinance. Woodstock acted on the advice of city attorneys, who relayed the news to the CCH and the ACLU.

Woodstock is among eight municipalities recently warned that their panhandling statutes are unconstitutional. A second municipality has notified advocates that it also intends to repeal its ordinance.

July 18  – Seeking assurance that asking for help is not treated as a crime, advocates for homeless people warned – or reminded – eight municipalities from across Illinois that local panhandling ordinances in those communities are unconstitutional and must be repealed. The warning came in the form of a letter from three prominent advocacy organizations today, building on a campaign launched last year.

In August 2018, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH), ACLU of Illinois, and National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty sent a series of letters to 15 communities raising concerns about their panhandling ordinances. At least nine communities – including the city of Chicago – acted to change their ordinances to comply with the U.S. Constitution.

But officials in several communities failed to act, including Carbondale, Cicero, Danville, Joliet, and Rockford. In addition, the advocacy groups sent new letters to Glen Carbon and O’Fallon, where the local ordinance does not meet constitutional standards. Finally, a separate letter was sent to Woodstock, which changed its ordinance following publicity around the August 2018 letters, but made the change in a fashion that remains constitutionally inadequate.

Continue reading Woodstock first to act, among 8 Illinois municipalities advised to change unconstitutional panhandling ordinances

Bring Chicago Home: Majority of Chicago aldermen sign onto proposal to combat homelessness

Proposal Would Fulfill Mayor’s Campaign Promise by Increasing One-Time Tax on Sales of Properties Worth More Than $1 Million to Curb Homelessness, Expand Affordable Housing

Alderman Michael Rodriguez, (22nd Ward), speaking at a July 23 press conference at City Hall

Comprising a majority of the Chicago City Council, 27 aldermen* Wednesday joined in support of a proposal championed by the Bring Chicago Home (BCH) campaign that would reduce homelessness in Chicago with funds generated from a one-time tax increase on the small fraction of city property sales sold for more than $1 million.

Under the legislation, more than 94% of all property sales in Chicago would be exempt from a proposed increase in the city’s Real Estate Transfer Tax (RETT), closely echoing a concept that Lightfoot, herself, repeatedly prescribed during her campaign for mayor.

In a June letter addressed to Lightfoot, 24 Chicago aldermen who characterized themselves as “strong supporters of a solution to dramatically reduce homelessness in Chicago” asked the mayor to back the proposal, which would fund services and housing opportunities benefiting the more than 86,000 city residents experiencing homelessness. Continue reading Bring Chicago Home: Majority of Chicago aldermen sign onto proposal to combat homelessness

Large numbers of homeless Chicagoans are working, been to college, new CCH study finds

ONE IN FIVE OF CITY’S HOMELESS ADULTS ARE EMPLOYED, NEARLY ONE IN THREE HAVE SOME COLLEGE EDUCATION

FINDINGS DEBUNK STEREOTYPES ABOUT HOMELESSNESS AND SUGGEST WIDESPREAD VULNERABILITY TO THE PROBLEM

Chicago’s hefty homeless population includes nearly 14,000 people who are working and more than 18,000 who have been to college – countering common misconceptions that anyone who collects a paycheck or pursues an academic degree is immune from one of life’s most desperate economic straits, a new report by the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH) finds.

The analysis, drawn from data compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau and the city of Chicago, estimates that the city’s homeless population surpassed 86,000 people in 2017, the latest year for which figures are available. Continue reading Large numbers of homeless Chicagoans are working, been to college, new CCH study finds

Kudos to Kohl’s and 65 employees for their generosity

CCH is grateful to Kohl’s department stores and their employees: This spring, 65 area Kohl’s employees put together toiletry and personal hygiene kits for distribution by our organizing team.

CCH organizers distributed hundreds of kits to people during their outreach in Chicago shelters and to people who live on the street.

Kohl’s also donated $11,000 to support CCH’s work! Continue reading Kudos to Kohl’s and 65 employees for their generosity

CCH awards college scholarships at June 27 event hosted by Loyola law school

Five high school seniors have won $10,000 college scholarships awarded by the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH) on June 27.

New and many of the returning scholars in 2019 (Photo by Allison Williams)

CCH offers a renewable scholarship of $2,500 a year to students who succeeded in school while coping with homelessness. Our new 2019 recipients are five students living in Chicago and suburban Ford Heights and Westmont, teens who graduated from schools in Chicago, Evanston, Oak Park, and Dyer, Indiana.

The public was invited to attend the 5:30 p.m. reception and 6 p.m. awards ceremony hosted by Loyola University Chicago School of Law, 25 E. Pearson St. Continue reading CCH awards college scholarships at June 27 event hosted by Loyola law school

Join CCH at fun summer events – rooftop yoga, golf outing, and a sunset cruise

By Michael Nameche, Director of Development

CCH has packed this summer with fun events that will support our work.  Here are three upcoming fundraisers where everyone is welcome!

Saturday, July 13

Rooftop Yoga

Join the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless Associate Board at the Fitness Formula Club, 1030 N. Clark St., #600. We’ll meet on the club rooftop for a 1-hour yoga session, 10:30 a.m. -11:30 a.m., followed by a light breakfast and mimosas.

All proceeds benefit CCH.  Tickets for $20 can be purchased HERE.

In the case of extreme heat or inclement weather, class will be held later, inside the club in the main room, from 12:30 p.m. – 1:30 p.m. Continue reading Join CCH at fun summer events – rooftop yoga, golf outing, and a sunset cruise