DeSantis signs bill banning homeless people from sleeping in parks and public spaces

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TALLAHASSEE – Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday signed a law banning homeless people from sleeping in parks, sidewalks and other public spaces, calling it a solution for communities “plagued” by homeless people.

During a news conference in Miami Beach, which recently began arresting homeless people who refuse to go to a shelter, DeSantis touted the legislation as advancing his “law and order” agenda.

“You should not be approached by a homeless (person),” DeSantis said. “You should be able to walk down the street and live your life.”

The legislation, House Bill 1365prohibits Cities and counties, starting October 1, will allow people to sleep or camp in public spaces.

Instead, those communities could create encampments, far from neighborhoods and businesses, approved by the Department of Children and Families. Most communities would have to offer safety, sanitation, and behavioral health services to people staying in camps.

To force communities to remove homeless people, HB 1365 allows individuals, businesses and the attorney general to sue local government starting January 1, 2025.

Cities and counties would have five days to “cure the alleged violation.” If the lawsuit is successful, the city or county would have to pay attorneys’ fees and costs.

Democratic lawmakers noted that the bill was proposed even though there were no studies or data to support it. The legislation was supported by the Texas-based Cicero Institute, a think tank created by Austin, Texas-based venture capitalist Joe Lonsdale. who supported DeSantis’ failed presidential campaign.

DeSantis said homeless people still need to receive treatment for behavioral health and substance abuse issues, but not in a way that “affects the public’s right to a high quality of life.”

“I think this is absolutely the right balance,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any other way to approach it.”

Democratic lawmakers and activists said Republican lawmakers seemed more concerned about removing homeless people than helping them. them. Communities could have to choose between forcing people into camps or arresting them.

Lawmakers offer $10 million total for the state’s 67 counties to comply with the law. Instead of offering more money, the legislation exempts 29”fiscally restricted” Counties provide the sanitation, safety and services required at campgrounds under the bill.

“Let’s be honest, it doesn’t really mean that I’m trying to help the homeless,” Sen. Jason Pizzo, D-Miami, said on the Senate floor earlier this month.

Strategies for Homelessness in Florida

DeSantis He said Florida was nothing like California, Seattle or New York City, which have struggled with homeless encampments and thousands of homeless people.

“They let the inmates run the asylum,” DeSantis said.

In Florida last year, the state reported 30,809 people were left homeless, about half of whom were sleeping in cars or abandoned buildings. That’s a 9% increase from 2019.

The national rise in homelessness is largely attributed to a lack of affordable housing, an issue Florida lawmakers have largely ignored. until last year.

Communities have adopted various strategies to serve the homeless, from bombing parks with annoying music to prohibit begging.

Miami Beach last year allowed homeless people to be arrested if they refused to go to a shelter. miami beach police 20 people were arrested under the ordinance late last year, most of whom were sleeping on the beach, according to police reports.

“Law and order reign here,” said Miami Beach Mayor Steven. Meiner said Wednesday.

However, what the federal government considers best practice is to end homelessness by treating and transitioning homeless people into permanent housing. Federal and local governments fund community coalitions and nonprofit organizations that locate, treat, and house homeless people. Some buy and renovate shelters.

This is how communities like Miami-Dade County have managed to reduce the homeless population. In 1992, the county created the nation’s first funding source dedicated to homeless services. using a 1% tax on food and beverages. Since then, the county has gone from having more than 8,000 homeless people to fewer than 1,000.

Without a strategy to end homelessness, some fear HB 1365 will lead to lawless and unsafe encampments.

That is What happened in Gainesville? in 2014, when the city moved homeless people downtown to an encampment near a homeless shelter. The city provided water, food, and police, but without structure or strategy, chronic homelessness, drug use, and violence increased. The field was closed after five years.

Miami-Dade County shows that a housing-first approach to homelessness works, said Jesse Rabinowitz, communications director for the National Homeless Law Center.

“We have clear evidence that Florida has the tools for homeless people, but they choose not to use them,” Rabinowitz said.

Miami Herald staff writer Aaron Leibowitz contributed to this report.

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