Cities that ban people from asking for help or money in public spaces are violating free speech and criminalizing poverty.

Cities that ban people from asking for help or money are violating free speech and criminalizing poverty.

That’s why we sent letters to four Iowa cities— Bettendorf, Davenport, Coralville, and Dubuque — informing them that their "panhandling" ordinances must be repealed.

Punishing homeless people with fines, fees, and arrests simply for asking for help is not only unconstitutional but also inhumane. It can drive people further into homelessness. The only true solutions to homelessness are better access to housing and services in our communities.

Rather than criminalizing panhandling through these ordinances, cities can modify restrictions and infrastructure to improve pedestrian and traffic safety while avoiding hurting those in poverty or limiting free speech.

This round of letters follows a similar effort in 2018 when we sent letters to three Iowa cities that had unconstitutional panhandling ordinances. Those three—Des Moines, Council Bluffs, and Grimes—have since repealed their ordinances.

We encourage all Iowa cities—not just the cities to which letters were sent—to take a close look at their ordinances to make sure they don’t have bans or permit requirements regarding panhandling or solicitation.

We are asking three things of the cities sent today's letters:

  1. First and foremost, the letters ask each city to repeal its unconstitutional panhandling ordinance. The letters point out that a city taking the step of formally repealing its ordinance is vital to protect anyone who is asking for help from a potential violation of their rights. Repealing the ordinance will also protect the city and its police from liability.
  2. Next, we ask each city to instruct police not to enforce its unconstitutional ordinance while the city goes through the process to repeal the ordinance. We also ask the city to notify us when that is accomplished.
  3. We also ask that any pending prosecutions under the ordinance be dismissed.

In the meantime, we encourage anyone who has been cited, arrested, or told to move on because they were asking for help or money to contact us by emailing or sending a letter to ACLU of Iowa Legal Intake, 505 5th Ave. #808, Des Moines, IA 50309.