Lawyers Threaten Suit Against City of Montgomery if Ordinance is Enacted
MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- The Southern Poverty Law Center today urged Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange to veto a city ordinance that subjects people who are homeless to fines and jail time for soliciting money in public spaces in direct violation of their First Amendment rights.
In a letter to Strange, the SPLC asserts that the city ordinance is "blatantly unconstitutional" and could result in a lawsuit if the city does not change its course.
The letter states: "We urge the Mayor to veto the ordinance because it both unfairly punishes people who are living in poverty and violates the First Amendment. If the Mayor does not veto the Ordinance (and the City Council does not rescind it), the SPLC will likely file a lawsuit against the City for violating the constitutional rights of its most vulnerable and needy citizens.
"Rather than jailing people whose dire circumstances have led them to ask for financial assistance on public streets, the City should invest in additional services to support people facing housing instability, mental illness, and addiction."
Earlier this month, the Montgomery City Council voted unanimously to approve Ordinance No. 24-2019, entitled "An Ordinance Prohibiting Panhandling in the City of Montgomery." Council members claim that the city's services for people who are homeless are adequate and those seeking financial assistance from others do not wish to access those services, but instead seek to feed addictions. According to the SPLC, these statements reinforce unfounded stereotypes about homelessness, mental illness and addiction.
Rather than enacting a "short-sighted, unconstitutional, and counter-productive" ordinance that criminalizes poverty, the SPLC urged the mayor to engage in a broad conversation with direct service providers and advocates about how to best support its most vulnerable and needy residents.