Bill outlawing panhandling and loitering on Alabama roads signed into law

Supporters say this will address a public safety issue, but local homeless advocates worry about the law's future implications.
Published: May. 26, 2023 at 7:49 PM EDT
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Governor Kay Ivey signed a new bill this week that outlaws panhandling and loitering on state roads.

Supporters say this will address a public safety issue, but local homeless advocates worry about the law’s future implications.

Under HB 24, individuals are prohibited from loitering or panhandling on state highways and roadways.

For example, in Montgomery County, this includes the Boulevard, Atlanta Highway, Vaughn Road, and Taylor Road.

Those who choose to violate the law can be found guilty of a class C misdemeanor. Subsequent arrests could mean fines or even months in jail­­.

However, bill sponsor Reed Ingram says the bill makes it clear that law enforcement also has the option of issuing a warning or transporting people to shelters where they can get help.

“The police can ask them to leave and if they don’t leave, it’s a law just like your seatbelt law now,” Ingram said.

Ingram says the bill is not meant to harm the homeless community, but is designed to keep drivers and walkers safe.

“It’s about saving the people that are on the side of the road and saving people from having to go to prison if they hit one,” Ingram said. “We’ve had over 800 get killed in 2021 and so this is very important.”

Montgomery County Commissioner Ronda Walker is in support of the new law. She says panhandling is a public safety concern.

“This gives law enforcement the opportunity to be more aggressive about helping these people and protecting our citizens at the same time,” Walker said.

Walker says there are plenty of resources available for those who want help. She points to the new Carastar Health Crisis Center, but Executive Director Donna Leslie clarifies that the facility is not a homeless shelter. They treat people experiencing a behavioral health crisis.

“We’re not a shelter. So they’re not gonna stay just because they’re homeless. We’ll admit them if their crisis situation needs further treatment,” Leslie said.

So, locally, the question remains, will there be enough shelters for those who need help? The Salvation Army is still serving people but at a limited capacity with their facility being torn down to make way for the city’s new Whitewater Rafting Park.

The Friendship Mission is the only overnight shelter in Montgomery right now, and Executive Director Tara Davis says they are at capacity and are in desperate need of funding to expand their programs.

This law goes into effect across the state on August 1st of this year.

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