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City Sued over Panhandling Ordinance

City

The city ordinance prohibits people from standing on medians less than six feet wide | Image by WFAA

The City of Dallas is facing a lawsuit regarding its ordinance prohibiting people from standing on medians less than six feet wide.

Dallas City Council passed the ordinance 14–1 in October 2022, as previously reported by The Dallas Express. Those who violate the prohibition can be fined up to $500.

The City council claimed the ordinance said it was put in place for public safety, but the Texas Civil Rights Project has recently filed a lawsuit against the City, alleging that it unfairly targets homeless people and violates their First Amendment rights.

Travis Fife, an attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project, is suing the City on behalf of four plaintiffs, including two disabled combat veterans.

The lawsuit reads, “The City manufactured an unjustified ‘public safety’ rationale for [the ordinance] and attempted to disguise the ordinance’s real purpose by criminalizing a broad array of speech.”

The Dallas Express reached out to numerous attorneys who specialize in First Amendment cases seeking insight on the merits of the lawsuit. None had responded as of press time.

Fife has asked a federal judge to issue a preliminary injunction to block the enforcement of the ordinance until the matter is resolved in court.

The City of Dallas must respond to the lawsuit by January 27th.

When the city council voted on the ordinance last year, Council Member Adam Bazaldua was the only dissenting vote.

“This is an effort to enforce poverty,” Bazaldua claimed at the time. “This is an effort to criminalize homelessness, an effort to criminalize panhandling.”

Council members who supported the ordinance said its intent was to protect public safety, and it was aimed toward those who “just plant themselves” in the medians.

Council Member Gay Donnell Willis said the ordinance would “give marshals a tool to help people in medians who are high” and move them to a safer location.

The City of Dallas also discourages residents from giving money directly to panhandlers. It has suggested that “giving spare change without offering support could make matters worse.”

While the Dallas Office of Homeless Solutions spends millions of dollars of taxpayer money every year, it has produced few tangible results in resolving the city’s crisis.

Recent polling conducted by The Dallas Express found that 63% of Dallasites believe that “homelessness, vagrancy, and panhandling” continue to cause “serious problems in Dallas.”

A survey by Dallas Downtown Inc. found that 76% of downtown residents felt that “homelessness is a significant issue” and compared the situation in Dallas to places like Austin, Houston, Chicago, and New York City.

A single point of service, on the model of San Antonio’s highly successful Haven for Hope, has been suggested as a more efficient and effective alternative to the City’s “housing first” approach, which does not address the root causes of homelessness and vagrancy.

This proposal is highly popular among Dallas residents, according to The Dallas Express polling.

The dangers caused by vagrancy in Dallas have reached a point where some businesses in developing areas must use private security to protect themselves from violent vagrants. Other businesses have been pushed out of those areas entirely.

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Pap
Pap
14 days ago

NO ONE should be on medians. It is disruptive to traffic and is fraught with dangerous possibilities. It slows up already congested traffic. And that also goes for charitable organizations. It could cause accidents and causes drivers to become angry behind cars that stop. I saw a couple of kids on a median a few years ago, jumping and waving for people to go to some car wash they were doing. They could make a misstep, trip and fall out in front of a car. Ludicrous. I phoned the police to have them moved to the sidewalk. Obviously, the adults with them had no sense.

Zulia
Zulia
14 days ago

I hope those homeless people won’t win. If they need help, they should use the resources the city provides. It’s a public safety..

Djea3
Djea3
14 days ago

Many cities do not allow ANY PERSON to stand on a median in a road. Most states do not allow anyone to stand on the onramp to any freeway or expressway either. This is a standard safety code many places. I actually DOUBT that the Plaintiff has any cause of action regarding this rational ordinance.

Likewise, private property such as malls have the right to trespass anyone that does anything they do not like while on that property. Certainly anyone panhandling at the entrance to any shopping or parking area is causing a safety issue as well.

However, I guaranty that the fire department’s “Boots” program and any other non-profit program will have to live with the exact same regulations or the regulation MUST be overturned. Alternatively, if a non-profit was able to get a permit that bypasses the code, then any private person should be able to get that same permit (non-profits are legal persons).

ksm
ksm
14 days ago

 “Those who violate the prohibition can be fined up to $500” They don’t have money to buy food for themselves. Where will they get the $500 to pay a fine? A better and more humane alternative would be to try to provide employment opportunities for these unfortunate folks.

Janet
Janet
Reply to  ksm
13 days ago

I agree. Amazing how this article goes from talking about a law suit against an ordinance passed for the “safety” of panhandlers in the median to “violent vagrants” as if they are both the same. Laws and ordinances are already in place for “violent” people whether they are “vagrants” or not. I am for trying anything that helps solve the problem. I think you are right to point out “humane alternative” in any attempt to address the issue.

Ann
Ann
Reply to  ksm
13 days ago

This is true but first they must clean themselves up and have a permanent residence before they can get a job. The veterans involved in the lawsuit should be getting help from the VA not be panhandling on the street.

Gem
Gem
13 days ago

Standing there cause drivers to rear end each other…it is dangerous for the person standing there besides they walk up to the cars and people get intimated.. wht if they are violent?? Some walk between the cars and can get hit!!
This is not freedom of speech!! Wht about freedom of not being harassed whn we are at stop light! Where is safety due to us?? Refer the needy to good resources… instead of thm trying to live out in the cold and heat…on a street!! Get them real jobs!!