Homeless man fights Hudson’s panhandling crackdown
The town of Hudson’s officials and police officers are violating the free-speech rights of the poor and the homeless by harassing and arresting panhandlers who use signs to solicit handouts, the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union said yesterday in a lawsuit.
The lawsuit, filed against the town in federal court in Concord, seeks a court order that town officials stop interfering with the free-speech rights of panhandlers on public property.
A 24-year-old homeless man, Jeffery Pendleton, is the lead plaintiff. NHCLU attorney Gilles Bissonnette said yesterday that Pendleton, who has been arrested at least once, no longer panhandles in Hudson because he fears he will be arrested again.
“The police made it clear if you engage in this form of speech you will be detained, cited and maybe arrested,” Bissonnette said. “His First Amendment rights have been chilled.”
Hudson’s lawyer, Jay Hodes, did not immediately return a call seeking comment yesterday.
The civil liberties lawyers maintain there is no state law or local ordinance in Hudson that prohibits panhandling, but the police have issued warnings and citations to panhandlers for soliciting without permits.
“Poor people have a right to be in a public space like anyone else to engage in peaceful, nonthreatening speech,” Bissonnette said.
He said the police in Hudson, a town of 23,000 residents near the Massachusetts border, in November issued a citation to Pendleton for panhandling. In January, Pendleton agreed to stay out of trouble for six months in lieu of prosecution. The police also have told Pendleton that he is banned from the town’s median strips, his lawsuit states.
Pendleton still panhandles in Nashua, often holding a sign that reads, “Homeless. Struggling. Anything Helps. God Bless.”
Pendleton, a Palestine, Ark., native, moved to New Hampshire with his wife in 2009. The lawsuit states that after they divorced in 2013, his life went downhill and he’s been living in a tent in an undisclosed location since then. His lawyers maintain he is not receiving government assistance.
The lawsuit notes that Hudson town officials allow firefighters to run their annual Boot Campaign to raise money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association by soliciting passing drivers and that no enforcement action has been taken against Market Basket supermarket chain protesters soliciting support along a main thoroughfare.
The civil liberties union said it recently worked with Concord officials to develop a panhandling ordinance that does not infringe on free-speech rights and persuaded Rochester officials to repeal their ordinance.