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Civil Rights, Homeless Advocates, Faith Community Oppose Montgomery’s Panhandling Law

Vote Tonight would Further Criminalize Being Poor, Violates First Amendment  

MONTGOMERY, Ala —Today civil rights and homelessness advocacy organizations sent a letter to Mayor Strange and Montgomery’s City Council opposing the City’s panhandling law and an amendment that would criminalize poverty being considered at today’s city council meeting.  

Today’s amendment makes it a crime for any person to "accept" food, water, or money from a person in a car.  But it goes even further than the original law by also criminalizing any good Samaritan that "give[s]" food, water, or money to the needy.

The letter reads:

“Although the text of the Ordinance states that its purpose is to promote the City's ‘health’ and ‘prosperity,’ the Amendment will undermine those goals by making it more difficult for people to exit homelessness. Montgomery, Ala., Ordinance 24-2019. For example, the law may result in a criminal record that makes it more difficult to obtain a job or create barriers to federal housing subsidies and other benefits. Studies show that it costs two or three times less to provide people experiencing homelessness with housing, healthcare, and other services than cycling them through the criminal legal system. …

Over the last year, Montgomery has made national headlines for our museums and memorials that reckon with our history of racialized violence. The City is beginning to grapple with that history and build a new legacy of fairness and equity. This Ordinance is another inflection point.  The outgoing City Council and administration can adopt the Amendment and bring national shame to Montgomery in its last week in office-by continuing to deny people basic dignity and by passing a law rooted in a Jim Crow history of racial segregation.”

Members of the faith community also penned an op-ed in opposition to the ordinance, writing: 

“We are called to emulate God’s actions; not only to feel the suffering of the poor, but to act on their behalf as well.  Just as God repeatedly comforts the poor, so too are we to comfort them; just as God seeks social justice for the poor, so too are we to seek justice on their account; just as God warns against oppressing the poor, so too are we to prevent their oppression; and just as God vows never to forget the poor, so too must we never forget them.

As Matthew’s gospel declares, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?  Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (25:37 & 40).

We must treat every person with dignity and respect.”

Members of the faith community, civil rights groups, and homeless advocates will gather outside Montgomery’s City Council at 4:15 PM to voice their opposition to tonight’s vote scheduled for tonight’s 5 PM City Council meeting.

The Amendment language can be found here on page 16, agenda item #4.