YOUNGSTOWN—The ACLU of Ohio sent a letter to Youngstown City Council today advising them against the adoption of a new anti-loitering city ordinance. The proposed ordinance would criminalize a broad range of behaviors including sitting on benches and spending idle time in the city. The ACLU letter criticizes the ordinance for giving wide discretion to law enforcement to target people who are homeless.

“This ordinance uses vague language to give law enforcement power to harass and arrest whomever they choose,” said Joe Mead, volunteer attorney with the ACLU of Ohio. “It is shocking how much innocent behavior would become illegal under this proposal. Everything from waiting for a bus to a lunchtime walk downtown might be grounds for arrest.”

The ACLU states that the proposed ordinance in Youngstown is nearly identical to other laws that that been struck down by courts for being unconstitutionally vague and inviting arbitrary enforcement.  The letter also claims that the City is using broad language to remove people who are visibly poor from public view.

Read the letter to Youngstown City Council.

“Using law enforcement to hide homelessness is expensive and ineffective, as well as cruel and unconstitutional,” Mead said. “Jail is the single most expensive way to house people who are homeless. Investing in solutions like housing and support services are more effective than pushing people into the criminal justice system.”

The letter also points to other policies the city of Youngstown has recently employed that target people who are homeless, including the seizure and destruction of homeless peoples’ property and an anti-panhandling law. The ACLU claims these ordinances have the same Constitutional problems that courts have cited in removing similar laws. The letter was co-signed by Professor Avidan Cover of Case Western Reserve Law School and Professor Doron Kalir of the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law.

The city of Akron recently faced litigation over its anti-panhandling ordinance and destruction of homeless encampments. The legal clinics at Case Western Reserve Law School and Cleveland-Marshall College of Law handled the litigation against the city of Akron.