Many communities around the country have ordinances and laws that restrict a person’s ability to ask for help on the street – or panhandling. The ACLU of Illinois, along with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless authored letters to 15 communities in Illinois citing their panhandling laws as unconstitutional. These communities include: Aurora, Carbondale, Champaign, Chicago, Cicero, Danville, Decatur, East St. Louis, Elgin, Joliet, Moline, Oak Park, Peoria, Rockford and Urbana. There’s more to do after these letters were sent. Laws like these are determined by your local governments – your mayors and your city councils. If you live in one of these communities send your mayor or city councilperson a letter or an email asking them to institute a new policy that does not restrict speech based off of income level, or even attend a city council meeting in person and ask them to take up this issue. Even if you do not live in one of these cities contact your city clerk to find out your community’s policy. Your local government officials need to hear from you about how to make each town in Illinois a more fair community.
If you do want to raise this issue with your local elected officials here are so talking points to assist with that conversation:
- Panhandling laws in many communities unfairly criminalize people experiencing homelessness.
- Some communities ban panhandling altogether; and, in other places, those who ask for help for themselves are barred from certain locations – even though other individuals and groups asking for donations are permitted.
- Our Constitution does not permit a lower standard of free speech simply because one is in need of assistance.
- It is not necessary to limit speech in order to increase public safety. Dangerous conduct can be – and is – regulated for help face additional penalties for certain behaviors.
- A 2015 Supreme Court case (Reed v. Town of Gilbert) about political signs requires a closer examination of local laws that regulate speech.
- Since that time – 100% of local panhandling ordinances challenged have been struck down. More than 55 laws.
- Communities need to adopt creative ways of addressing the root causes of homelessness, not barring speech.
- Everyone has a right to ask for help.