ACLU Alarmed By Threats to Arrest Homeless People in Ann Arbor

April 28, 2010

Ann Arbor, MI — The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan is gravely concerned by plans to evict about 20 residents of the local homeless encampment Camp Take Notice from public land near Interstate I-94 and Ann Arbor-Saline Road. The Michigan State Police posted signs in the encampment yesterday warning residents that they must leave or risk being arrested for trespassing.

“It’s no coincidence that police are threatening to arrest homeless people who have nowhere else to go ahead of President Obama’s visit to the University of Michigan,” said Jessie Rossman, ACLU of Michigan Staff Attorney. “Rather than sweeping the ugly problem of homelessness under the rug, federal, state and local governments should work toward commonsense solutions to the problems facing Michigan’s poorest.”

Yesterday afternoon, the Michigan State Police posted “No Trespassing” notices throughout the camp. According to the notice, the Michigan Department of Transportation, which owns the property, asked law enforcement officials to enforce the trespassing laws. In addition, the notice states that “continuing to occupy this area without lawful authority or permission is a crime, and may result in your arrest and prosecution.” The notice instructs homeless individuals to remove their property immediately.

Camp Take Notice is one of at least three tent communities in and around Ann Arbor. It was established to provide a safe, sober and drug-free environment with food and shelter for individuals and has strict rules prohibiting panhandling in the vicinity of the campsite.

“It is not a crime to be homeless in Michigan,” said Rossman. “There is perhaps no punishment more cruel than arresting individuals for something that is out of their control. As long as the economic crisis and resource shortages persist, there will continue to be people who have no choice but to live on the streets throughout Michigan.”

In December, the ACLU of Michigan filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf Caleb Poirier, a member of Camp Take Notice who was arrested for trespassing after admitting to police that he lived in the camp. Charges against Caleb were later dismissed. In its brief, the ACLU of Michigan explained that when a city does not provide sufficient shelter to house the homeless, it cannot then punish the homeless for not having anywhere else to go. According to homeless advocates in Washtenaw County, between 2007 and 2008, there was a 30 percent increase in homelessness amongst families and individuals.

In addition, the ACLU warned that punishing harmless life-sustaining conduct, such as sleeping in public, constitutes cruel and unusual punishment under the U.S. and Michigan Constitutions.

To read the friend of the court brief, click here.

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