Matthew Prensky
Matthew Prensky · April 11, 2024

ARLINGTON, Va.—Today, the Institute for Justice (IJ) sent a letter to city officials in Ellisville, Mississippi, calling on them to allow Naomijoy’s Hopeful Hearts, an education center for low-income, autistic children, to remain open. Forcing this education center to close, just two months after giving it permission to open, would cause needless suffering to the center’s children and violate both the Mississippi and U.S. Constitutions.   

In February, Haven Overstreet obtained a “privilege license” from the city that gave her permission to open an “education center” at 800 E. Ivy Street. The center helps children ages 3-15—including some who are nonverbal—obtain valuable life skills such as learning to get dressed, feeding themselves, playing games, and much more. Despite granting the license, city officials now claim Haven’s business violates Ellisville’s zoning code for home businesses.  

Haven tried to do everything right, but there’s no way she could have known the center was violating city code. City officials never told her about the zoning issues before granting Haven a license to open the education center, and the city’s zoning code isn’t posted online. 

“Our center fills a critical gap in our community, otherwise unavailable locally, providing vital resources and opportunities for children with disabilities,” said Haven, who owns Naomijoy’s Hopeful Hearts. “Keeping Naomijoy’s open is not just about providing education; it’s about fostering hope, empowerment, and a sense of belonging for these children and their families.” 

Haven has built her entire business around the license she received in February. She’s hired two employees, signed a lease, and invested more than $10,000 into her current location. Moving Naomijoy’s Hopeful Hearts would cause needless emotional distress to children who thrive in routine and structure. Forcing Haven to either close or move the center, would violate Haven’s constitutional rights to equal protection and substantive due process. Moreover, zoning laws shouldn’t infringe on the rights of education centers like Naomijoy’s to provide additional education options to families with special needs.  

“Forcing Naomijoy’s to move would be unjust and unconstitutional,” said Erica Smith Ewing, senior attorney at the Institute for Justice. “This is a small education center that serves only five kids at a time. They are not negatively affecting the neighborhood and they shouldn’t have to move just to comply with a burdensome zoning code. Forcing them to move would be completely arbitrary and hurt needy families’ right to choose the best education for their children.”  

Haven is represented pro bono by Lee Turner with the Dummer Law group. IJ is working with Mr. Lee to fight for the education center to stay open.  

IJ has a long history of fighting to protect the right to earn an honest living, including in Lakeway, Texas, where city officials tried to use zoning violations to shut down a home daycare, or in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where the city is attempting to use its zoning code to restrict a non-profit sanctuary for disabled or injured animals. Ultimately, city officials in Lakeway voluntarily decided to change its zoning code to allow the home daycare rather than continue its lawsuit with IJ. The suit in Winston-Salem is ongoing.