Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Opinion | Alabama needs to protect its homeless population

CW File

Slowly but surely, states around the country have been passing laws that will make being homeless as close to illegal as possible. People with homes are granted certain luxuries, such as resting and relieving themselves, that those without homes cannot reliably find anymore. 

In May 2023, the Alabama Senate passed House Bill 24 by a 33-0 margin, which would make two or more arrests for loitering a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a $500 fine or 30 days in jail. It specifically applies to public roadways or the right-of-way of public roadways managed by the state. Officers have been instructed to approach potential loitering situations peacefully and ask people to leave the site or transport them to another location.

HB24 attempts to address “public safety” by carting away individuals with nowhere else to turn besides these public areas. The argument is that there is no reason for people to be near the roadways, that it’s unsafe.

Nobody is choosing to stand next to a busy intersection or roadway. It is done exclusively out of necessity. 

The bill goes on to list many different ways that one could be found in violation of this law, specifically targeted at those without a roof to sleep under. “Loitering” is used as a blanket term for people who are asking for help using signs next to roads, in any transportation facilities, or near school or college campuses. Maybe if legislators said “no areas with benches or other places to rest,” it would’ve saved some ink.

HB24 continues to state specific practices that someone without a home might use to make money or access any form of help. According to the bill, standing near the roadway to ask for a ride or “soliciting employment, business or contributions from the occupant of any vehicle” is allowed. 

Not only are people without homes prohibited from taking up space, but now they can’t use their voices either or ask for help in any way. Rather than utilizing budgets to provide viable shelter or gainful employment, states are choosing to further exacerbate the challenges that those without homes face.

As the holidays approach, food banks and shelters are seeing increased need, and it’s getting more difficult for them to keep up. Public assistance programs have left more people out in the cold after reforms presented to combat COVID-19 have slowly been revoked. These programs seem to make themselves more difficult to receive rather than focusing on providing nutrition to those in need. 

Currently, there are eight homeless shelters serving the entire state of Alabama. These can exist hundreds of miles away from people who would seek help if they had a mode of transportation to receive the help they can no longer ask for in their immediate area from the kind of civilians they encounter. 

Most of the funds allocated from the state budget that could be put toward more homeless shelters are grouped under the same category, the Community Development Block Grant, as the money that’s used to improve streets or repay Section 108 loans. Half of the budget goes toward these two causes alone in the city of Tuscaloosa.

Instead of depending on cities to individually decide on the importance of housing their population adequately, there should be separate funding focused solely on the development of more housing options for those who have nowhere to go. Housing first is the only way to avoid having to use laws that seem targeted toward putting those without homes behind bars.

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