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Injunction Granted Against Statutes that Criminalize Homelessness

Two statutes that criminalize soliciting charitable donations ruled unconstitutional by federal court 

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — A federal judge has issued a permanent injunction against state statutes that criminalize soliciting donations and begging, ruling that the statutes violate the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. 

“We are pleased that the court chose to permanently enjoin the state’s solicitation statutes. Criminalizing people for asking for help further disenfranchises those who are already facing economic hardship,” said Micah West, senior staff attorney at the SPLC. “The U.S. Supreme Court has held that the First Amendment covers ‘charitable appeals for funds.’ Housing, not handcuffs, is the way to end homelessness. It should not be a crime for our unhoused neighbors to ask for help. Rather than criminalizing people experiencing homelessness, the state should address our housing affordability crisis that is a primary driver of homelessness.” 

In 2019, the city of Montgomery passed an ordinance imposing additional penalties on solicitation of donations, including mandatory jail time. Although the city ultimately repealed the ordinance after SPLC, clergy, unhoused people and other advocates organized in opposition to the law, the city continued to enforce two state statutes that also criminalized soliciting donations. 

SPLC, the ACLU of Alabama and the National Homelessness Law Center filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Montgomery, Montgomery County Sheriff and Alabama Law Enforcement Agency to immediately stop the city, county and state from enforcing two statutes, which prohibit people from exercising their First Amendment right to solicit charity in the form of food or money to meet their own basic needs. In the two years before the lawsuit was filed, law enforcement officers issued more than 200 citations to people soliciting charitable donations in the city of Montgomery alone.   

The original lawsuit was filed on behalf of Jonathan Singleton and two other residents of Montgomery experiencing homelessness. Singleton, who relies on the help of others, suffers from chronic illness, including kidney failure and diabetes. He was arrested six times for holding signs that mentioned his situation as a homeless person and has found it difficult to maintain employment, housing and healthcare.  

The city and sheriff previously settled the lawsuit and agreed to stop enforcing the laws. The federal court’s most recent ruling declared the laws unconstitutional and permanently enjoined the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency from enforcing them anywhere in the state.  

“The injunction is a victory for marginalized groups that find themselves in tough economic circumstances and in need of help,” said Tish Gotell Faulks, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama. “Criminalizing the solicitation of charitable donations does nothing to advance public safety. Instead, it multiplies already existing barriers for people experiencing homelessness. This can include unaffordable fines and fees, the loss of their freedom through incarceration and a criminal record – all of which are obstacles to obtaining housing and economic security.” 

“Since our 2015 Norton v. Springfield case, more than 75 communities have had their panhandling laws struck down by courts or repealed them under legal pressure,” said Eric Tars, legal director with the National Homelessness Law Center. “Any community with these antiquated laws still on the books should be repealing them yesterday. If they worked, they would have ended homelessness by now. We end panhandling by ending the need for people to ask for help in the first place.”

Anti-solicitation laws, including Alabama’s law criminalizing begging, have their origins in vagrancy laws that were designed to criminalize African Americans after the Civil War. The discriminatory effect continues today, with people of color disproportionately harmed by laws that target individuals who ask for help because of a lack of stable housing or resources. 


About the Southern Poverty Law Center   
The Southern Poverty Law Center is a catalyst for racial justice in the South and beyond, working in partnership with communities to dismantle white supremacy, strengthen intersectional movements, and advance the human rights of all people. For more information, visit .