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Lawsuit Challenges Greensboro City Panhandling Ordinance

Beyonce245 / Wikimedia Commons

Three Greensboro residents living in poverty who have solicited money in public are challenging a city ordinance that criminalizes aggressive panhandling.

In a federal lawsuit, the National Center for Homelessness and Poverty and the ACLU argue the ordinance limits freedom of speech, equal protection and due process for those asking for money in public places.

The city originally voted to change the ordinance in April to create a misdemeanor offense for aggressive solicitation. According to the lawsuit, the council finalized it in July. 

Eric Tars, senior attorney at the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty said, “We told the city council that 100 percent of similar ordinances have been struck down by courts—25 of 25 since 2015."

"Greensboro residents who want to see something done about panhandling should be outraged that, rather than implementing housing strategies that work, their council members are wasting time and resources passing unconstitutional laws that don’t," Tars added. 

The suit alleges the ordinance criminalizes the behavior of peaceful solicitors based on their message, and deters them from exercising their rights by asking for help from the public. The complaint claims the three plaintiffs have fallen worse into poverty because they can’t continue panhandling.

The Greensboro city attorney didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.