Civil rights groups say Mobile’s camping ordinance violates Constitution, urges council to vote it down

Cell’s proposed city tenting ordinance is unconstitutional and faces litigation in federal courts if adopted by the Metropolis Council, in keeping with a letter submitted Tuesday by 4 main civil rights businesses together with the Montgomery-based Southern Poverty Legislation Heart.

The letter additionally calls on the Cell Metropolis Council to vote down or completely withdraw consideration of the ordinance throughout its assembly later right now. The council’s Public Security Committee is scheduled to think about talk about the ordinance throughout a 1:30 p.m. assembly at Authorities Plaza.


The SPLC, the Nationwide Homelessness Legislation Heart (NHLC), American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Alabama, and the Poor Folks’s Marketing campaign: A Nationwide Name for Ethical Revival, all signed onto a letter that was issued to the council’s seven members and Mayor Sandy Stimpson.

“We ask that this physique concentrate on options that may he homelessness in our communities, equivalent to inexpensive housing for people who find themselves unhoused or vulnerable to homelessness or housing instability,” in keeping with the letter signed by Micah West, senior employees lawyer with the SPLC and co-signed by representatives with the opposite organizations.

Beneath the proposed ordinance, tenting or leaving private property – bedrolls, clothes, sleeping luggage, backpacks – unattended throughout the metropolis of Cell could be prohibited. Violators could possibly be topic to fines of $100 to $500 per violation or withstand six months in jail.

Cell Metropolis Councilman Ben Reynolds, who’s sponsoring the ordinance, has repeatedly mentioned it’s not supposed to concentrate on town’s homelessness scenario.

Imposing the ordinance would symbolize a violation to the U.S. Structure, the letter states. S

Such violations embody:

  • The Eighth Modification, which prohibits merciless and weird punishment the place there may be “insufficient shelter for unhoused people.” Cell County has 665 mattress obtainable for supportive housing, together with 261 emergency shelters; 133 transitional housing; and 240 everlasting housing beds, in keeping with info included within the letter. Official estimates recommend there 550-650 unhoused individuals in Cell and Baldwin counties, although homeless service suppliers imagine the depend “dramatically undercounts” the unhoused inhabitants. Estimates from these teams recommend the numbers are within the 1000’s.
  • The Fourteenth Modification’s Due Course of Clause by citing a earlier resolution by the U.S. Court docket of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit (which incorporates Alabama), that states an analogous ordinance adopted in Ocala, Florida, “could nicely” violate substantive due course of “to outlaw sleeping” in public the place there are inadequate alternate options.
  • The Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments if it ends in the illegal seizure and destruction of an unhoused particular person’s property. The ordinance, the letter states, doesn’t handle what legislation enforcement ought to do with the property as soon as it’s seized.
  • The Fourteenth Modification’s Equal Safety Trigger for discriminating in opposition to individuals experiencing homelessness. Because the letter states, they homeless could be the one individuals “who don’t have any alternative however to sleep or camp exterior and have private belongings with them in public locations the place they reside.”

The letter additionally states the proposed ordinance is “inconsistent” with U.S. Facilities of Illness Management and Prevention pointers that frowns upon displacing individuals from homeless encampments with out a plan to rehouse them. That plan, in keeping with the CDC, ought to be developed in coordination with native homeless service suppliers and public well being companions.

“All of us need to finish homelessness in our communities,” West mentioned within the letter. “The simplest approach to obtain that purpose is to not criminalize homelessness however to supply entry to enough housing.”

That is the second time within the final 5 months that the SPLC has weighed in on a Cell metropolis coverage matter. The SPLC, in November, wrote a letter with concerns about how the city planned to handle redistricting of city council boundaries, especially with an annexation plan looming.

The council has but to finalize its redistricting plans, and an annexation proposal has but to floor.

The SPLC and NHLC have joined collectively in opposition to metropolis ordinances earlier than in Alabama. After the Montgomery Metropolis Council voted in 2019 to criminalize panhandling, the 2 businesses challenged town in federal courtroom and obtained a preliminary injunction in opposition to the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Division and the Alabama Legislation Enforcement Company (ALEA) prohibiting them from imposing anti-panhandling legal guidelines.

The Montgomery City Council has since rescinded the ordinance.

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