On Tuesday the Montgomery City Council repealed an ordinance that criminalized panhandling, which had drawn protests from members of the clergy, homeless advocates and the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The original ordinance was passed in July and required anyone cited or arrested for panhandling to serve a minimum two days in jail. Mayor Steven Reed supported the repeal and asked the City Council to take action.
“We are grateful to Mayor Steven Reed for his leadership and to the city council for rescinding this cruel and short-sighted law,” said Micah West, senior staff attorney at SPLC in a statement Wednesday.“The City Council’s decision to repeal the ordinance is an important first step. Unfortunately, the City continues to issue hundreds of citations every year under separate laws that criminalize panhandling. It is our hope the City will also rescind these laws. Rather than criminalizing homelessness, the City should work with business leaders, advocates, directly impacted people, and direct service providers to identify how best to support and meet the needs of its homeless population.”
Eric Tars, legal director at the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, said in a statement Wednesday that the organization was happy that Montgomery’s leaders decided to repeal “their patently unconstitutional panhandling ordinance.”
“Housing not handcuffs, is the way to end homelessness, rather than just push it out of public sight. We hope the City will finish the job by making it so no one needs to beg in the first place, by ensuring everyone has access to safe, affordable, decent housing and services,” Tars said.
Federal courts have long found that solicitation is protected under the First Amendment. In a decision earlier this week, the Supreme Court let stand a decision affirming that homeless persons cannot be punished for sleeping outside on public property in the absence of adequate alternatives.