Providing easy access to food, shelter and warmth, malls can be ideal places for homeless people looking for refuge.
However, WJZ reports that one mall in Columbia, Md. has banned a homeless couple for doing just that, warning them that they will be arrested for trespassing if they return.
Although mall management accused them of disturbing the peace, Patricia Francis and Stephan Rabai said they would go to the mall to lounge and shop like other patrons, taking advantage of the low prices and accessibility of diverse resources. Francis told WJZ:
"I would buy clothes at Penney's. Their sale prices permit me to maximize my wardrobe when you're homeless. ... I bought books at Borders."
Rabai said he would go to the mall after the library was closed.
"Now," he told WJZ, "I'm banned from the mall and have no place to go."
The Washington Post reports that the ACLU is looking into the Columbia Mall's actions against the homeless pair. Deborah A. Jeon, the ACLU's legal director, said the banning may be illegal as Francis and Rabai did not carry excessive baggage or cause any other disturbances. She issued a letter to the Howard County Police Chief William McMahon describing the banning as an encroachment of the pair's legal rights.
In the letter, she wrote:
"While we certainly understand the Mall's interest in ensuring a safe and pleasant environment for customers of the businesses located there, we believe the specific actions taken against Ms. Francis, Mr. Rabai and other homeless individuals are unfair and illegal."
The ACLU has also released a video interview with the couple, which can be seen on ACLUMaryland's YouTube account.
Mall management has issued a statement and offered to meet with Francis and Rabai, but it is not yet known whether the pair has accepted.