First Amendment doesn’t mean KC homeless camps can stay permanently, expert says

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas met with the leaders of the homeless camp at City Hall once again Wednesday.

Many wonder how much longer that camp will stay there as city leaders try to figure out a resolution.

They’re also reaching out in other ways in hopes of finding some kind of middle ground, on a very thorny issue.

Austin Whitfield never imagined he would be here.

“This is my hometown and to be sleeping on the City Hall lawn is just so humbling,” Whitfield told FOX4. “Like I told you; embarrassing and humiliating.”

Like dozens of his nearby campers, Whitfield’s encampment in the shadow of city hall is as much a political statement as a last resort settlement.

“I was a tax paying citizen most of my life, certified welder, journeyman painter,” Whitfield said. “I was in the union in the painting industry, I did a lot of good jobs here.”

Whitfield decided to take his plight to this visible locale to force city leaders to address the issue of homelessness.

“I have earned that right to be here,” he said.

But while protesting on public property is a protected form of political expression, taking up permanent residence there isn’t quite the same thing.

“You can exercise your first amendment rights, as long as you don’t interfere with other people’s rights,” said Mark P. Johnson a legal scholar and professor at the University of Kansas.

“They have the right to use that space, but they don’t have the right to use it if it starts creating a problems for other people,” Johnson said.

City officials have argued the encampment is a public health issue, as human waste has been turning up in fountains and air vents around city hall.

Johnson said it’s a perfect example of peaceful assembly having its limits.

“The best thing to do is to find a compromise where the protesters are allowed to express themselves where it doesn’t present kind of a public health problem for the rest of us,” Johnson said. “It’s not an easy problem.”

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