ACLU and the city square off over how to deal with Houston's homeless problem

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The city says new ordinances aimed at panhandling and tents will help the homeless transition to shelters. But in a lawsuit the American Civil Liberties Union accuses the city of violating their civil rights in the process and making homelessness a crime.

“This is hard,” said Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner.

The mayor is talking about getting the city’s chronically homeless off the streets and into shelters.

“We’re not forcing anybody to leave a certain location,” the Mayor said. “We’re simply saying there are certain things you cannot have at that location.”

Like tents, grills or, according to a new ordinance, anything that doesn’t fit in a three foot cube.

“Which is really concerning because there are important possessions that people have like bulky winter clothing or a bicycle which actually can’t fit in a 3-foot cube,” said ACLU attorney Trisha Trigilio.

What the ACLU also takes issue with involves a city ordinance prohibiting panhandling.

“Panhandling is a life sustaining activity for many people in Houston,” Trigilio said.

“We’re not telling you not to give, we’re simply saying re-direct your giving in such a way that your giving can be more impactful and you can have a meaningful impact on people’s lives,” said the Mayor.

The reasons for homelessness are varied.

Addiction, domestic violence, and mental health issues, just to name a few.

The ACLU does give the mayor props for some of his plans to get more chronically ill homeless people off the street.

“But the points of the plan that trample constitutional rights for the comfort of Houston’s more fortunate residents are the points of the plan we object to,” the ACLU attorney said.

“And with all due respect to the ACLU I respectfully disagree,” said Turner.