The American Civil Liberties Union and other organizations are challenging panhandling ordinances in 15 municipalities across Illinois, including Joliet.
Letters demanding repeal of the ordinances are being delivered Tuesday by the ACLU, the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty.
Officials in Chicago, Elgin, Joliet, Moline, Oak Park, Peoria, Rockford, Urbana and more are the recipients.
Diane O’Connor of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless said panhandling laws unfairly criminalize people experiencing homelessness for exercising their rights.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled panhandling is protected by the First Amendment right to free speech.
The letter challenging Chicago’s ordinance said shielding listeners from messages disfavored by the state isn’t permissible.
The Herald-News looked into the barriers panhandlers face in Joliet in a report earlier this month.
For people who need extra income, panhandling remains an option. But in the city of Joliet, there is no way to panhandle legally. In the city’s code of ordinances, Section 2 of Chapter 22 prohibits people from standing “on a highway or street for the purpose of soliciting contributions from the occupant of any vehicle.”
The only exception to the ordinance is for registered charitable organizations and statewide fundraising activities. These organizations must fill out an application, then turn it in to the City Clerk’s Office.
Pauline Ames, an employee at the office, said an average panhandler’s application would be denied.
In 2013, the city of Joliet had a specific panhandling ordinance that outlawed the act. There also is a state statute that prohibits soliciting contributions from highways.
Joliet Police Chief Brian Benton said the city’s enforcement is to ensure safety.
“People soliciting or panhandling to pedestrians, ... to the point where they may feel it’s harassment [can lead to arrest],” Benton said.
Benton said officers also will cite panhandlers in the roadway.
“We don’t want them to get hit by a car or have drivers swerve,” Benton said.
• Former Herald-News intern Sydney Czyzon contributed to this report.