Blog post by Mitchell Patterson, Communications Intern
On March 8 the ACLU of Delaware, the National Homelessness Law Center, and other community advocates sent a letter to the Delaware House Judiciary Committee, asking them to consider a repeal of laws that criminalize panhandling rather than passing House Bill 58, which would keep penalties for panhandling in place.
On March 11, just days after we sent our letter, House Bill 58 was stricken from the General Assembly’s list of bills to consider this session. In addition, Representative Paul Baumbach has shown his support for exploring options that would help support those experiencing homelessness, not criminalize them.
House Bill 58 aimed to amend the Delaware Code and shift cases involving panhandling violations to the Court of Common Pleas. Its advocates argued that this would make more social services and legal resources available to homeless individuals indicted for panhandling. However, this would avoid the larger issue at hand: the criminalization of panhandling altogether.
Arresting, ticketing, and harassing those begging for help in a time of desperation helps no one. In order to assist Delawareans experiencing homelessness or poverty, the General Assembly should now consider repealing the panhandling statutes on the grounds that they severely infringe upon First Amendment rights.
Across the country, panhandling ordinances challenged in federal courts have been found unconstitutional. Since 2015, 70 cities, including Wilmington, have repealed their anti-panhandling statutes to protect their citizens’ right to make peaceful requests for charity in public places.
There are workable alternatives to criminalizing homelessness and poverty. We thank the Members of the General Assembly for striking House Bill 58, and urge them again to look at the greater problem and take steps towards repealing Delaware’s panhandling statute.