City to “Improve the Quality of Life for People Without Means”

by JC

Really??? And just how does the two new ordinances under consideration accomplish that?

“The working group aims to protect and improve quality of life in downtown Missoula for all people who use the area, including business owners, people who live and work downtown, shoppers and patrons of professional offices, and people who are without means and depend on social services,” said city communications director Ginny Merriam

When the Panhandling Work Group and its town crier resort to this sort of political, nonsensical happy speak, you know that they are worried about perceptions more than they are about reality. And Councilman Strohmaier aims to pick up the battle on August 12th, with a renewed attempt to move the ordinance.

Much better would be finding some more solutions for the homelessness we have in Missoula and Montana. Somehow, I don’t think the number of beds available in local shelters is anywhere near able to meet the numbers of homeless in Missoula, judging by what I’ve seen in encampments and car sleeping around town.

So I have a nice resource for those who want to combat these immoral ordinances:

The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty has a a 12 page booklet entitled “Combating the Criminalization of Homelessness.” Here’s an excerpt:

What Are the Problems with Criminalization?

Besides the clear moral problem of punishing someone for carrying out life-sustaining activities in public when there are no other alternatives, there are also legal concerns. Criminalization may violate at least four Constitutional amendments.

For example, when a city creates a prohibition against panhandling but allows firefighters to solicit donations, First Amendment concerns are raised because the government is permitting one type of oral expression but not another.

The Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable search and seizure of property, is implicated when a city decides to destroy homeless persons’ tents and personal possessions without giving either notice of its plans or a process for allowing the people to first claim their property.

The Eighth Amendment prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. If a court punishes a homeless person for performing life-sustaining activities in public, like sleeping, there could be an Eighth Amendment violation if the homeless person had no where else to perform the activity (necessary for survival).

The Fourteenth Amendment equal protection clause may be violated if police routinely only cite homeless people for sleeping in a public park but allow business people to nap in the park undisturbed.

These are only some of the constitutional concerns raised by criminalization ordinances.

Oh, and I would be remiss here if I didn’t provide a nice link to the ACLU’s press release where they won an 8th Amendment case against the city of LA’s criminalization of homelessness laws:

“The Eighth Amendment prohibits the City from punishing involuntary sitting, lying, or sleeping on public sidewalks that is an unavoidable consequence of being human and homeless without shelter in the City of Los Angeles,” Judge Wardlaw wrote [for the 9th U.S. Circuit].

I hope someone at the Montana ACLU or Montana Human Rights Network is paying attention here. And a hat tip to Klemz for referring to this case!

  1. Lizard

    i was raised in the suburban midwest, in the kind of neighborhood that dictated what kind of fence you could build (chain-link was NOT allowed) and forbid unsightly things, like drying your clothes outside, on a clothes line.

    maybe that’s why i think the impetus behind creating these new (and useless) punitive ordinances (to deal with undesirables) is to appease those with the spending power who can still afford a $5 dollar yogurt and $200 dollar blouse.

    alas, if only we had a functioning, humane health care system supporting a sane society of tolerant human beings capable of living within its means, maybe visitors visiting our idyllic western montana college town wouldn’t have to sidestep eric the black passed out in shorts that expose his testicles.

  2. Opal

    Apparently another homeless person has died on the sidewalk in Missoula. The death is being reported on Keci and Kpax, but not in the Missoulian this morning. The Irony of the death on the same day as the project homeless connect event, and during the city’s homeless awareness week. Sad.

    • JC

      Notice the headline of the KPAX article: “Transient…” Not one of us… Easier to sweep under the rug that way. Pretty disgusting media reporting. How about a story about this man’s life, and how it came to end on the sidewalks of MIssoula?

  1. 1 “The Rights of Pursuing Life’s Basic Necessities” « 4&20 blackbirds

    […] pucky indead! Add a Montana State Constitution violation to the list of travesties that the proposed ordinances are going to foist on Montanans. So not only is the sleeping in public […]

  2. 2 ” We need to find a different solution” « 4&20 blackbirds

    […] I’m all about protecting the civil rights of individuals who choose to inhabit or visit downtown Missoula, I also understand the need to have […]

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