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Ohio ACLU Urges Wooster To Reject Proposed Homeless Ordinance

A tent at a homeless encampment in Columbus.
Adora Namigadde

The ACLU of Ohio is calling on Wooster to reject an ordinance that could punish the city’s homeless population.

The proposal calls for an initial fine of $150 if a homeless person refuses available shelter. Repeat offenses would mean higher fines and jail time.

In a letter to the city, the ACLU said the proposed ordinance is unconstitutional and would not be effective. ACLU attorney Joe Mead says it also misses a chance for communication and information.

“What’s missing is the next step: Why do you think people aren’t seeking shelter if it’s available? What are the actual barriers?” Mead says. “What are the practical barriers to somebody receiving shelter from a particular institution?”

Mead also questioned the constitutionality of forcing homeless people into a religious shelter.

Wooster City Law Director John Scavelli said the ordinance is not about the punishments and more about helping people get off the streets.

The ACLU of Ohio has sent letters to cities around Ohio urging them to reconsider their panhandling laws, which they say go against a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on free speech. And in October, the organization filed a lawsuit over a homeless camp ban in Hamilton County.