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Groups plan legal action if Carbondale doesn’t change panhandling ban

CARBONDALE (WSIL) — Several years after changing the city’s ordinance, Carbondale faces possible legal action over its rules on panhandling.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, and the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty have written multiple letters to the city, claiming the ordinance violates the First Amendment.

DOCUMENTS: Copies of the letters sent to Carbondale regarding its panhandling ban

On most days, a man who wishes to go by the name "Cowboy" walks the streets of Carbondale, looking for any help he can get.

He said he tries not to harass anyone.

"I’m not doing nothing," he said. "I’m just holding a sign."

"Cowboy" said he sees plenty of criticism from people driving by, "When I’m out here, I hear people (say), ‘Go work, fat boy’… That’s when I get upset and I say, ‘God bless you. Lord loves you.’ And leave it alone."

He said police have also approached him, giving him at least one ticket in recent months.

Carbondale city councilman Lee Fronabarger voted in favor of the panhandling ordinance and says it’s meant to target "aggressive" panhandlers that harass people.

"It’s a delicate balance: You’ve got to take care of the rights of the homeless people but you also have to take care of the rights of the business owners and the public," Fronabarger said.

Carbondale city councilman Adam Loos said he’s open to changing the ordinance, but he wants to hear advice from the city attorney before going into specifics.

The groups challenging the ordinance say it bans things that are already illegal and appears to solely target homeless people.

If the city doesn’t respond by August 19, the group plans to pursue "all available legal options" to protect panhandlers’ First Amendment rights.

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