CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — Homeless advocates, not panhandlers, were the ones standing on the corners of a busy intersection Monday evening, protesting a new ordinance they say is an attack on the homeless.
Protesters gathered at the corner of Sockanosset Cross Road and New London Avenue holding signs at the demonstration organized by the state’s Homeless Bill of Rights Defense Committee.
During the protest, 13 people received citations were issued by both the city and the state. This included nine state traffic citations for pedestrians on the freeway and six municipal tickets for violating the city’s ordinance against soliciting on the street.
Andrew Horwitz, a law professor at Roger Williams University, attended the protest.
“I am out here to exercise my first amendment rights and show some opposition to the ordinance,” Horwitz explained.
He said that he believed the ordinance was a way to suppress the face of poverty and homelessness. “[It is] to remove from our vision poor people and people who are struggling and I think that’s exactly the opposite of what we should be doing.”
In February, the city passed an ordinance that forbids a person from entering or standing in the road or a median in order to collect money from drivers. While panhandling is not specifically mentioned in the ordinance, it would ban panhandling, fill-the-boot campaigns, and other fundraising efforts. The ordinance was passed several months after a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union caused Cranston to stop enforcing a panhandling control ordinance that was passed last year.
Cranston Mayor Allan Fung was not present at the demonstration. He released a statement following the event:
I stand by the road safety ordinance and am confident the Cranston Police Department will properly enforce the law on our roadways. This ordinance is about public safety and making sure nobody gets hurt or involved in an accident in one of our busy intersections.
This ordinance is narrowly-tailored to restrict transactions from occurring in the roadway in specific high-traffic intersections. As mayor, I have a responsibility to ensure the public is safe, whether they’re on foot or behind the wheel.
Megan Smith, the outreach program manager at House of Hope, still thought that was too far. “I don’t think that any ordinance that criminalizes any behavior that individuals have to engage in to survive with such a broken safety net is every going be functional.
She added, “If we’re looking at what is dangerous, homelessness is dangerous. Not standing in a median and trying to survive.”
In January, a bill was introduced at the statehouse that would fine motorists who roll down their windows to give money to panhandlers.