This year, the ACLU of Mississippi, in a letter nationally coordinated by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, relaunched a campaign demanding that 16 jurisdictions in Mississippi repeal their bans on panhandling. The campaign, #IAskForHelpBecause, was a follow-up to last year’s Housing Not Handcuffs campaign. Since the 2015 Supreme Court decision in Reed vs. Town of Gilbert secured heightened protections for free speech, every case brought against panhandling ordinances – more than 35 to date, including many with language similar to what is found in these 16 Mississippi towns and cities – has been found unconstitutional. The letter by the ACLU of Mississippi was part of a coordinated effort among 15 organizations in 11 states targeting more than 175 similarly outdated ordinances. To date, a total of 20 Mississippi municipalities have been asked to repeal their panhandling ordinances. Among the 20 cities to receive a letter, 8 have repealed their panhandling ordinances. These cities include Meridian, Olive Branch, Ridgeland, Starkville, Vicksburg, Pascagoula, Brandon, and Corinth. There are still cities that refuse to remove these unconstitutional laws from their books, and the ACLU of MS is exploring litigation against particularly egregious ordinances to protect the rights of Mississippi’s citizens. Criminalizing a person for simply asking for help is inefficient and only prolongs homelessness. All Mississippians deserve the right to exercise their freedom of speech, and those in need absolutely deserve the right to ask for help.
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