HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – The state of Alabama now has criminal penalties for those who panhandle and loiter on state-maintained highways.

The new law signed by Governor Kay Ivey prohibits people from loitering on a public roadway or in the right-of-way of a public roadway.

HB 24 officially prohibits people from loitering on a public roadway or in the right-of-way of a public roadway. It also prohibits pedestrians from soliciting employment, business, or contributions or distributing articles on a highway.

This comes as homeless advocates say the population of people who are homeless is growing.

“Last year, our point and time count yielded 549 homeless individuals and this year’s count gave us a number of 646, which is an 18 percent increase year over year. A lot of that is attributed to the challenges of affordable housing in the greater Huntsville area,” explained Holly Baker with the North Alabama Coalition for the Homeless.

Advocates also said there is an influx of people coming from neighboring states who get here and realize they can’t afford it contributing to that number.

Representative Reed Ingram says violators of the new law will be charged with a misdemeanor and face jail time.

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“It is up to 24 hours on the first offense and if it’s repeated it’s the officer’s discretion whether to take them in,” said Rep. Ingram

Now advocates say the ideal situation would be to focus on the cause and not the effect.

“We need to do more of that help the cause and not the effect. The effect is you’re on the street. The cause is there no affordable housing, there’s no mental health care, there’s no access to decent physical healthcare or physical care at all, no access to transportation,” said Sue Terrell of Hands Across Decatur.

The 18% increase referred to is said to be the minimum number of homeless in our area that are counted in one day. They say it does not reflect the true number of people who are homeless out there.

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