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.