Schneider’s comments to Lake Worth City Commission on homeless ordinance

January 25, 2016

My name is Mark Schneider and I’m the president of the Palm Beach County Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida.
Members of the Commission:
The ACLU has had a longstanding interest in the problem of homelessness. We would encourage you to work with the County and with the League of Cities to craft a solution to Lake Worth’s problems based upon the models provided by the National Alliance to End Homelessness.
We would also encourage you and the City Attorney to familiarize yourselves with the Pottinger agreement. Let me quote from our website:
“In 1988, the Miami Chapter of the ACLU of Florida brought litigation challenging the treatment of homeless persons by the City of Miami and the police. After a decade of litigation involving two trials, two appeals, and nearly two years of mediation, the “Pottinger Agreement” put in place rules to protect the fundamental rights of homeless people in the City of Miami.
“As homelessness surged in the 1980s, the City of Miami responded with efforts to drive homeless people out of the City or out of sight. It routinely arrested homeless people for minor misdemeanors – for example, sitting on public sidewalks or sleeping in parks at night after they closed – that homeless people could not avoid committing…”.
Federal Judge C. Clyde Atkins found that:
“The City’s arrests of Plaintiffs for harmless acts in public that fell within misdemeanor ordinances violated the Eighth Amendment’s ban against punishment based on status…”

And that:

“The City’s overbroad enforcement of misdemeanor ordinances that homeless persons necessarily violate while living in public violated the Plaintiffs’ right to procedural due process…”

In short, homeless people cannot legally be punished for carrying out in public daily activities of living when they have no alternative provided them. I hope you will explore constructive solutions to homelessness, then, rather than adding to the difficulties homeless persons experience by passing Ordinance 2016-06. Reach out to the County, the League of Cities, and the National Alliance to End Homelessness so you won’t be going this alone, and inform yourselves about the Pottinger Agreement. The ACLU is anxious to work with you to make life in Lake Worth, and elsewhere in Palm Beach County, better—for the average citizen, for the business community, and for the homeless. Thank you.

18 January 2016 Comment to Lake Worth City Commission on Agenda item 2016-06