Homeless win ban on arrests
By Martha GrevattCleveland
New York is not the only city where it is a crime to be
homeless. Just in time for the busy holiday shopping season,
the city of Cleveland instituted a policy of arresting homeless
people caught sleeping on the streets or "panhandling."
After five people were arrested, homeless advocacy groups
began organizing to defeat the ordinance.
The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless demonstrated
and packed City Council chambers.
On Dec. 22, the coldest day of the year, Food Not Bombs
erected a tent shelter on Public Square in front of Tower City
shopping mall. The group, which has been feeding homeless
people every Sunday for the past four years, served hot meals
and distributed blankets and clothing.
At 7 p.m., city officials informed demonstrators that they
were in violation of the law, but there was no order to
disperse. It was not until 3 a.m., when the streets were empty
and the media were inaccessible, that police surrounded Public
Eyewitnesses state that dozens of police cars, a fire truck,
and an ambulance arrived on the scene. Cops tore down the
shelter and confiscated food, blankets and all other provisions
that had been left for the homeless.
Five people were arrested while Mayor Michael White watched
from above in a cozy Renaissance hotel room. Homeless people
and their supporters were arrested. They have since been
Despite the arrests, the protest was tremendously effective.
On the same day as the demonstration, the American Civil
Liberties Union issued a letter to the mayor expressing its
intent to sue the city to block the unconstitutional
Lawyers for the ACLU offered not to file the suit if the
sweeps were halted, but the city refused.
The victory came when Federal District Judge Paul Matia
issued a temporary restraining order stopping the arrests of
While feeling good about the victory, homeless people and
their advocates will not rest until the ordinance is
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