ACLU Says Md. Mall Ban On Homeless Pair Illegal

COLUMBIA, Md. (WJZ)—Kicked out for breaking the rules or for just being homeless? Stuck in the middle of that question are two homeless people and the Mall in Columbia.

Alex DeMetrick reports the mall has banned the pair, and now that banishment is being challenged.

When it’s cold, staying warm on the street isn’t easy. For two homeless people, the Mall in Columbia offered a place to get warm, buy food and even make some purchases.

“I would buy clothes at Penney’s.  Their sale prices permit me to maximize my wardrobe when you’re homeless,” said Patricia Francis. “I bought books at Borders.”

“Since I’ve been homeless, the mall’s become a point of refuge when the library is closed,” said Stephan Rabai.

But not anymore. They have been banned, and the penalty for returning:

“They will be arrested by the Howard County Police Department for trespassing on mall property,”  said Deborah Jeon, Maryland American Civil Liberties Union.

Maryland’s ACLU chapter calls that unfair.

“There haven’t been complaints against them causing any kind of disruption. So we’re not completely clear about what the wrongdoing is that they have engaged in,” Jeon said.

In printed reports, a mall spokesperson says the two people were banned because they had broken mall rules, such as leaving personal items unattended or being in non-public areas—not for being homeless.

“He said that he was ordered by his boss to ban me,” Rabai said. “He proceeded to fill out the banning notice.”

“He was unsure what to check, so he selected disturbing the peace,” Francis said.

According to the ACLU, neither of those banned carried multiple bags and bundles or asked customers for handouts.

“Now I’m banned from the mall and have no place to go,” Rabai said.

“I have been outside every since,” Francis added.

Mall management said in a prepared statement that it is offering to meet the pair to discuss the banning.

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