Court Should Dismiss Charges Against Ann Arbor Man Arrested for Being Homeless, ACLU Says in Brief

December 23, 2009

Ann Arbor, Mich. – In a friend of the court brief filed today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan urged the 15th District Court in Ann Arbor to dismiss charges against a homeless man who was arrested for living on public property. The brief was filed in support of Caleb Poirier, a resident of the local homeless encampment “Camp Take Notice.”

“As the homeless population increases and shelters reach maximum capacity, many have no option but to live on the streets,” said Jessie Rossman, ACLU of Michigan Staff Attorney. “Mr. Poirier is simply a victim of the times who is doing all he can to survive daily life. There is nothing more cruel and unusual than punishing him for who he is. Arresting involuntarily homeless individuals is not only unconstitutional, it is shameful.”

Citing the documented shortage of shelters and available resources, the ACLU 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. At the time of Poirier’s arrest, there were only 189 shelter beds in the city. Of those only about 100 were made available to single men. Furthermore, it is reported that 100 percent of the emergency shelter beds were occupied on an average night between October 2007 and September 2008.

In addition, the ACLU warned that punishing harmless life-sustaining conduct, such as sleeping in public, constitutes cruel and/ or unusual punishment under the U.S. and Michigan Constitutions “because the homeless individual can neither resist the need to perform these activities nor avoid public places when engaged in this otherwise innocent conduct.”

In September, Poirier was arrested for trespassing during a sweep for homeless people living on public land off of Interstate I-94 and Ann Arbor-Saline Road. During this time, officers approached the campsite and arrested all those who admitted to living in the encampment. Poirier has been homeless for 5 years due to his struggles with mental illness that prevent him from keeping a steady job. Poirier is represented by David M. Blanchard of Nacht & Associates, P.C.

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

To read the friend of the court brief, click here.
To read Poirier’s motion and brief to dismiss, click here.
To read the statement and press release the homeless advocacy group MISSION filed in support of Poirier, click here and here.

UPDATE: (1/5/2010) Trespassing charges were dismissed today against Caleb Poirier, a homeless man who was arrested for living on public property.

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