Last year the ACLU of Delaware in partnership with counsel at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP and the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (NLCHP) sent a letter to the City of Wilmington, calling on the City to repeal its panhandling ordinances. In response, the City committed to stop enforcement of those laws and work to repeal them. We commend the City of Wilmington and City Council for following through on that commitment.

On January 16, 2020, the majority of Wilmington City Council approved an ordinance to remove portions of the city code criminalizing panhandling in ways that were violations of the First Amendment. The ordinance repeals panhandling laws that banned panhandling when the sun is down, at bus stops, and at certain times of day, and repeals a provision that requires a permit for panhandling.

This action came in response to the demand letter that we sent the city council last year, reminding officials that it is unconstitutional and it is bad policy to ban particular kinds of speech and criminalize people for asking for help. Click here to read the full letter.

“...communities that meet people’s basic needs for income, housing, and services are solving the problem permanently and help humanize those who need to ask for help.” —Eric Tars, Legal Director at NLCHP

“No one wants to see low-income and unhoused individuals have to beg for money,” said Eric Tars, legal director at NLCHP. “But communities that meet people’s basic needs for income, housing, and services are solving the problem permanently and help humanize those who need to ask for help. We’re happy to see the proposed panhandling ordinance removed from the Wilmington city code and would welcome the opportunity to work with them toward more constructive solutions: housing not handcuffs.”

Striking down these portions of the city code is a win for First Amendment rights in Delaware and an important step in criminal justice reform in Delaware, but there’s more work to do. Every city and town in Delaware should be a place where everyone is welcome, regardless of their income or housing status.

We’d like to thank the team at the NLCHP and the attorneys from Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP for their help in the effort to strike down Wilmington’s troubling panhandling prohibitions. To learn more about the #HousingNotHandcuffs campaign, please visit housingnothandcuffs.org.

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