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August 28, 2018

Letters sent to New Mexico municipalities part of a nationwide campaign to end bans on asking for donation

 ALBUQUERQUE, NM – Today the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico in a letter nationally coordinated by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, demanded that 10 New Mexico municipalities repeal their ban on panhandling. Bans restricting the free speech rights of people to solicit donations in public places have widely been held unconstitutional by federal courts throughout the nation.

“Laws that criminalize people simply for being poor or homeless don’t belong on the books anywhere in our state,” said ACLU of New Mexico Executive Director Peter Simonson. “We’re sending a strong message to cities with panhandling bans that people have a First Amendment right to ask for help in public spaces. Our communities should focus their efforts on tackling the underlying causes of poverty and homelessness, not criminalizing the symptoms.”

The ACLU of New Mexico sent demand letters to 10 cities statewide that have anti-panhandling laws that it believes are unconstitutional: Artesia, Elephant Butte, Espanola, Las Cruces, Los Alamos, Los Lunas, Mesilla, Rio Rancho, Santa Fe, and Silver City. Last year, when the ACLU of New Mexico informed the City of Gallup that its panhandling ordinance was unconstitutional, the City acted swiftly to repeal it.  

Since the 2015 Supreme Court ruling in Reed v. Town of Gilbert, a case that heightened protections for free speech, 100 percent of the legal challenges to panhandling bans have been successful in striking down those bans, and at least an additional 31 cities have repealed their ordinances.  

 The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, together with the National Coalition for the Homeless and more than 100 other organizations, launched the Housing Not Handcuffs Campaign (www.housingnothandcuffs.org) in 2016 to emphasize that criminalizing homelessness is the most expensive and least effective way of addressing homelessness. The letter by the ACLU of New Mexico today is part of a coordinated effort amongst 18 organizations in 12 states targeting more than 240 similar outdated ordinances. See nlchp.org/panhandling for more information.

“No one wants to see poor people have to beg for money,” said Eric Tars, senior attorney at the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty. “But until all their basic needs—food, health care, and housing—are met, they have the right to ask for help.”

 “Punishing homeless people with fines, fees, and arrests simply for asking for help will only prolong their homelessness,” said Maria Foscarinis, executive director at the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty. “Housing and services are the only true solutions to homelessness in our communities.”

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The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (the Law Center) is the only national organization dedicated solely to using the power of the law to prevent and end homelessness. With the support of a large network of pro bono lawyers, we address the immediate and long-term needs of people who are homeless or at risk through outreach and training, advocacy, impact litigation, and public education. The Housing Not Handcuffs campaign is a project supported by the AmeriCorps VISTA program.  

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico fights to defend and expand liberty in the state of New Mexico through litigation, policy advocacy, and public education. 

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