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Dallas ordinance targets people experiencing homelessness, lawsuit says

A person holding up a sign that says "Please Help God Bless" on the street.

Local and national civil rights groups say the Dallas ban on standing on road medians criminalizes poverty.

Homeless advocates sued the city of Dallas Wednesday over a recently passed ordinance that bans lingering in some city streets, arguing it illegally targets people experiencing homelessness.

The city ordinance prohibits people from lingering on the street with a median of 6 feet or less, or where there's no median. Anyone who violates the ordinance could be fined as much as $500.

"This isn't keeping people safe," said Travis Fife, a staff attorney for the Texas Civil Rights Project, one of the groups that filed the suit. "This isn't helping address panhandling or homelessness and all it's doing is taking already vulnerable people and pushing them further to the margins."

The lawsuit — which also names Dallas Police Chief Eddie García and interim city marshal David Pughes as defendants — alleges that the ban targets people experiencing homelessness, restricts protestors and restricts people from trying to help the homeless, in violation of the First Amendment.

Spokespersons for the city and the police department declined to comment on pending litigation.

The city has argued the ordinance is meant as a pedestrian safety measure: 68 pedestrians were killed on Dallas streets last year.

Fife said street medians, corners and any areas adjacent to the street are part of the social fabric of a city and a community.

"I just think it flies in the face of…free speech to have a ban that is this all-encompassing," Fife said.

Fife said on top of that, the ordinance puts vulnerable people in cycles of criminal debt, further pushing them away from social services that could help them.

The Dallas City Council voted to approve the ordinance in October, with District 7 Councilmember Adam Bazaldua as the only dissenting vote.

Bazaldua said then that the ordinance unfairly targets the city's homeless population.

Fife said the lawsuit isn't an isolated opposition to the ordinance by one group, but a response to the concerns of residents in the community.

"I would implore the City Council to not waste hundreds of thousands of dollars on legal fees defending an ineffective and immoral policy, and to simply get rid of the policy on their own terms," Fife said.

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Pablo Arauz Peña is the Growth and Infrastructure Reporter for KERA News.
Toluwani Osibamowo is a general assignments reporter for KERA. She previously worked as a news intern for Texas Tech Public Media and copy editor for Texas Tech University’s student newspaper, The Daily Toreador, before graduating with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. She is originally from Plano.