CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia (ACLU-WV) has issued a warning to sue the City of Wheeling regarding its treatment of unhoused people.

In a letter dated Friday, Jan. 12, 2024, ACLU-WV has given the city until Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2024, to rectify constitutional issues with a new city ordinance. The ordinance, which was passed in October and took effect on Jan. 1, effectively criminalizes being homeless, Legal Director Aubrey Sparks said.

The warning comes ahead of the city’s plans to demolish encampments, leaving unhoused people with no shelter at all amid sub-freezing temperatures. The weather forecast calls for a low of 7 degrees Tuesday.

“It is uncommon for us to provide a letter to a municipality pre-suit, but we are doing so here because we genuinely hope that you will be called to meet your constitutional burden through your own reason, rather than as the result of a court order compelling your compliance,” the letter states.

ACLU-WV warned city council that the ordinance was unconstitutional when it was passed, Sparks said.

“It is not illegal to be poor and it is not illegal to have nowhere to sleep,” Sparks said. “The Constitution protects people from being criminalized based on who they are, which is exactly what the city of Wheeling has tried to do here.”