Good Afternoon members of the Memphis City Council, We come today to speak on behalf of HOPE, that’s Homeless Organizing for Power and Equality, a grassroots organization made up exclusively of men and women who are formerly or currently experiencing homelessness.
We are greatly disappointed by the council’s actions here today to pass an ordinance that will only further the criminalization of homelessness and poverty, in a city where there are so many much more pressing issues. To make matters worse is that the law before you today will ultimately accomplish nothing.
The maker of the motion seeks to extend the times where panhandling is prohibited from 5pm at night to 10am in the daytime and extend the boundaries around crosswalks and intersections. The error here is that it is assumed that somehow nothing is already being done, or cannot be done during those hours to address panhandling.
Here is the reality of what is already going on. During the day and in the evening people who are panhandling at intersections or by on or off ramps are charged with OBSTRUCTION OF A HIGHWAY OR PASSAGEWAY. Which is already a Class C misdemeanor and carries the exact same penalty of a $50 fine and no more than 30 days in jail that this panhandling ordinance invokes. http://law.justia.com/codes/
In other words, all that is being changed here today is the charge being given. Those who panhandle for whatever reason will see no difference between yesterday, today or tomorrow.
The only difference is the charge being given by the officer in question. Further, it cost Shelby County $87-$112 per person per day to hold them at 201 Poplar, which means that by the time that person is done being processed and booked the county has already lost money on a charge with a $50 fine. Keep in mind that even now 201 is already wrestling with an overcrowding issue due to the difficulty of processing people being held to their court dates. This is leading to massive and needless waste of tax payer dollars for no actual gain.https://www.memphisdailynews.
We don’t care how you vote today because this legislation is ultimately meaningless and counterproductive to anyone wanting to actually address the core issues of poverty and addiction at the root of the problem.
It grieves us that clearly the maker of the motion did not speak with MPD officers on the beat, homelessness outreach workers or the staff at 201 Poplar before this reckless action was taken. The Memphis City Council has now wasted 6 weeks debating and presenting a meaningless law that will only serve to hamper the operations of the jail.
We urge you to use the next six weeks to promote something that will actually make a real and positive difference in the lives of our brothers and sisters on the streets. Memphis has no free shelter, we have few beds for single women, no beds for LGBT community and slum like living conditions at places like Serenity Towers, Corning Village, Bend Tree apartments and many others. For every 55 units of low-income housing we have 100 qualified applicants. Further we have less than 40 code officers and an MLGW process that keeps people out of housing due to unreasonable payment plan process.
If you had six weeks for this nonsense, we hope you’ll find 6 weeks for the least among us.