Indianapolis Faces Class Action Over Ban Targeting Homeless

(CN) – A homeless man represented by the American Civil Liberties Union sued Indianapolis on Thursday over the city’s recent declaration of an emergency and prohibition on lying on the public sidewalk or congregating under certain underpasses.

On Aug. 4, the city of Indianapolis allegedly distributed a notice around the city and under four underpasses where homeless people tend to congregate declaring an emergency.

The notice also stated that all belongings had to be cleared from the underpasses within four days, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday in Indianapolis federal court by lead plaintiff Maurice Young.

Approximately 67 homeless people regularly slept under these underpasses, the complaint states, until city personnel physically removed them and their possessions on Aug. 8.

Since then, Indianapolis police officers have allegedly informed homeless persons standing or sitting under the subject overpasses that they are not allowed to congregate there due to the declared emergency.

Young, a homeless man, says he was told by police that he could not sit under the railroad bridges, but claims that other non-homeless persons have congregated under the same overpasses without police interference.

His class-action lawsuit alleges that the homeless ban violates the equal protection and due process clauses of the U.S. Constitution. He is represented by attorneys with the ACLU of Indiana.

“Maurice Young, who is frequently in the Indianapolis downtown area, would like to be able to stand or sit on these sidewalks, without in any way obstructing pedestrian or other traffic, to rest and obtain shelter from the elements,” the complaint states.

Young asserts that the city’s use of the term “emergency” is so vague that it cannot support the infringement of homeless persons’ right to sit or stand on public city sidewalks.

“He is now prohibited from doing so inasmuch as the City of Indianapolis has prohibited homeless persons from even stopping in these areas because of its declaration of an emergency,” the complaint continues.

Young is represented by Kenneth Falk, Gavin Rose and Jan Mensz with the ACLU of Indiana.

A spokesperson for the city of Indianapolis did not immediately respond Thursday to an email request for comment sent after business hours.

The ACLU’s Falk said in a statement that, “The Supreme Court has repeatedly invalidated attempts to prohibit persons from gathering for innocent purposes.”

“The right to do so does not depend on a person’s housing status. The Constitution guarantees everyone equal protection under the law,” he said.

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