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Homeless face additional challenges with public citations

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Besides finding a place to sleep every night, the homeless in Houston also have to worry about getting ticketed. There are no specific tickets for being homeless, but you may be surprised to find out there are a variety of Class C violations that tend to focus on the homeless.

"I got a citation for having a shopping cart outside of an establishment," said Charles Chambers, who has been homeless for several months.

Besides getting a ticket for having a shopping cart without written permission, the homeless can also get ticked for lying in place in the Central Business District between 7am and 11pm, camping in a city park, panhandling within eight feet of a café, littering and several other violations.

"The tickets don't help," says Marilyn Brown of the Coalition for the Homeless.

She says homeless men and women with a number of unpaid tickets often won't qualify for housing that may get them off the streets. However, Brown says advocates who work with the homeless understand that everyone must follow the law.

Fortunately in Houston, there is something called "Homeless Court." Several times a month, agencies that help the homeless will go to court with those trying to leave the streets. The judges will often dismiss the tickets in exchange for community service, or work out some other non-monetary resolution. This allows those who are ready to get off the streets a chance at permanent housing.

There is a city wide homeless census planned for next week. Advocates say a yearly homeless count is invaluable when it comes to their efforts in trying to eliminate the problem of chronic homelessness in Houston.

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