ACLU files lawsuit on behalf of Houston's homeless

Three homeless people are plaintiffs

By Erica Young

HOUSTON - The ACLU of Texas is taking legal action after a recently passed ordinance that will affect homeless people in Houston.

The Houston City Council in April approved a ban aimed at ending homeless encampments and panhandling in the city. The ordinance prohibits temporary shelters, tents and unauthorized outdoor cooking devices in public areas.

The American Civil Liberties Union announced Monday that it has filed a lawsuit on behalf of three homeless Houstonians. The ACLU said the ban illegally deprives homeless Houstonians of shelter, infringes on their right to free speech and constitutes a criminalization of homelessness.

"The main thing these laws take from us is our dignity," said Tammy Kohr, one of the plaintiffs. "We're not bad people; we're just trying to survive."

"This law shows little respect or sympathy for the impoverished people of Houston," plaintiff Eugene Stroman said. "Living in shelters just isn't an option for us, but if you can't find your own place to live, you're treated like a criminal."

"In recent years, Houston has admirably managed to reduce homelessness by half by pursuing sensible and compassionate solutions to this nationwide crisis," said Trisha Trigilio, staff attorney for the ACLU of Texas. "But these latest ordinances abandon that humane approach. The city said they're meant to get people into shelters with 'tough love,' but the truth is the shelters are full and Houston's homeless have nowhere else to go."

The lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Texas requests an injunction that would prohibit the tent ban, the panhandling ban and the seizure of homeless Houstonians' private property.

The ban went into effect Friday, but the city said only warnings are being given. Meanwhile, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said the city is on track to getting 500 homeless people permanently housed within six months.

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