ACLU warns SLC about violating homeless people’s constitutional rights

Posted at 4:09 PM, Jun 10, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-10 19:47:22-04

SALT LAKE CITY — The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah is warning city leaders against violating homeless people’s constitutional rights.

In a statement, the ACLU said it was concerned by a list of “goals” the Salt Lake City Council was being asked to consider by a coalition of Pioneer Park area businesses. Among the ideas for tackling homelessness: ending roadside meal service by ministries and other groups, prohibiting sleeping in the streets and dedicated “beat cops” on Rio Grande Street and Pioneer Park.

“While it is understandable that downtown residents and merchants are discomforted and frustrated by the sight of so many poor and vulnerable people living in extreme poverty, the ACLU of Utah strongly recommends that the Salt Lake City Council and other city leaders carefully weigh the many constitutional implications of municipal ordinances aimed at reducing the visibility of these individuals before adopting any of (Pioneer Park Coalition’s) stated ‘goals,'” the ACLU said in its statement.

The ACLU said ordinances targeting panhandling, loitering, camping or sleeping in public have been sued over in the past, and cities have lost.

“Again, while we sympathize with the frustration and discomfort of Rio Grande business leaders and community members, the answer to that frustration and discomfort cannot be increased criminalization and draconian enforcement. These are expensive, ineffective and short-term approaches that exacerbate rather than alleviate the root causes of poverty and homelessness, while degrading the inclusive and charitable spirit of Utah’s capital city,” the ACLU said.

The Homeless Services Commission will begin holding public meetings next week to discuss ways to deal with poverty and homelessness in Salt Lake City. The commission will also be looking at moving the homeless shelter from the Rio Grande area, or adding smaller shelters around the Salt Lake Valley.