Florida House Passes Ban on Homeless Sleeping In Public Despite Added Burdens to Local Governments

homeless ban florida
But the couch can stay. (Dan Meyers on Unsplash)

The Florida House on Friday approved a controversial proposal that would prevent homeless people from sleeping in public, despite concerns about increased costs for local governments.

The Republican-controlled House voted 82-26 along almost-straight party lines to pass the bill (HB 1365), which is backed by Gov. Ron DeSantis. It also would make it easier for residents and business owners to challenge local officials over how homelessness is addressed.

The Senate is scheduled to take up a similar proposal (SB 1530) on Monday.

House sponsor Sam Garrison, R-Fleming Island, acknowledged the measure “isn’t going to eliminate homelessness,” but he said current efforts aren’t working.

“This is not a bill designed to put people out of sight, out of mind. It’s quite the opposite,” Garrison said.

He said the goal is to keep Florida cities from becoming like San Francisco and other cities “where the problem exceeds the resources to address it.”

The bill would prevent cities and counties from allowing people to sleep on public property, including at public buildings and in public rights of way. It would allow local governments to designate certain property for sleeping or camping if the sites meet standards set by the Florida Department of Children and Families.

Such areas, which could only be used for one year, would have to include access to such things as restrooms and running water, have security and be deemed alcohol- and drug-free. Also, the sites could not harm values of nearby properties or safety.

But without state funding to carry out the bill, Democrats contended it would increase local-government costs and force homeless people into wooded areas.

Rep. LaVon Bracy Davis, D-Ocoee, said the measure seeks to criminalize homelessness while “bullying municipalities and counties into doing what we want them to do.”

“We must acknowledge that pushing the unhoused out of sight isn’t a solution. It is a failed attempt to sweep a societal problem under the rug,” Bracy Davis said.

Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, said lawmakers should focus on “robust investments in transitional housing and shelters, but no. Instead, we want to designate a location that’s probably going to be really hard to identify.”

The bill also would give residents and business owners standing to file civil lawsuits against local governments for allowing illegal sleeping or camping on public property.

Fiscally constrained counties — mostly rural counties — would be exempted from certain requirements if they would create a financial hardship.

Rep. Ralph Massullo, R-Lecanto, said the bill would start to clean up streets, while providing safe shelters and mental-health services.

“Will you all have to come back here next year and do some more work? Possibly,” Massullo, who is term-limited, said. “But when the cities aren’t acting, the state needs to, and that’s our responsibility.”

The House on Thursday rejected a series of amendments proposed by Democrats, including proposals to bar perpetrators of domestic violence from being allowed in the designated homeless areas and allowing the areas to remain in place for more than 365 days.

–Jim Turner, News Service of Florida

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