Please Don't Feed the Homeless: Pottinger Revisited


This article is an outgrowth of my experiences as the founding director of Faulkner University’s Family Violence Legal Clinic in Montgomery, Alabama. My students and I partnered with Legal Services Corporation of Alabama and set up a makeshift office in a Montgomery shelter, where we met with victims of domestic violence. What we discovered surprised us all. The majority of our clients were homeless, though not necessarily under the Stewart B. McKinney Act’s definition.

When Hurricane Katrina added approximately 1.5 million more individuals to the already burgeoning homeless population of the United States, I sensed the mood of the country moving quickly toward the same compassion fatigue that produced senseless mistreatment of the homeless in Miami. The litigation in Pottinger v. City of Miami was clearly the high-water mark in homelessness activism in the 1980’s and 90’s, obtaining relief under the Fourth Amendment, the Eighth Amendment, the Due Process Clause, and the Right to Travel. Ironically, Hurricane Andrew profoundly exacerbated the deplorable conditions in which Miami’s homeless lived while the litigation was pending, perhaps disposing the court to consider the issues of the homeless in a new light.

In July, Las Vegas enacted an ordinance that subjects people who offer food to the homeless in parks to fines or jail time. These types of actions are reminiscent of those that sparked Pottinger. This article is an overview of Pottinger in a Post-Katrina America.


Civil Rights and Discrimination | Housing Law | Human Rights Law | Social Welfare Law

Date of this Version

August 2006