Florida Law Bans Homeless People From Sleeping in Public

Bill signed by DeSantis this week says cities can create authorized camps if shelters are full
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 22, 2024 1:32 PM CDT
Florida Law Bans Homeless People From Sleeping in Public
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis answers questions from the media, March 7, 2023, at the state Capitol in Tallahassee.   (AP Photo/Phil Sears, File)

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed a law banning homeless people from sleeping overnight in public places including parks and sidewalks. HB 1365 says cities and counties can set up government-run camps if shelters are full. DeSantis and other Republicans say the legislation will help provide unsheltered people with "wraparound services" incuding mental health services and addiction treatment, USA Today reports. Critics say it doesn't provide enough funding or long-term solutions—like homes.

  • DeSantis cites "commitment to law and order." In a statement, DeSantis said the bill "upholds our commitment to law and order while also ensuring homeless individuals have the resources they need to get back on their feet." The governor has said he wants to stop Florida from looking like San Francisco, which he has described as "overwhelmed with tent cities and homeless encampments," per USA Today. "These are difficult issues, but you should not be accosted by a homeless [person] like we see," he said when he signed the bill Wednesday. "You should be able to walk down the street and live your life."

  • Enforcement. The bill doesn't include penalties for people who camp in public spaces, though critics say it could lead to mass arrests. The bill allows the state attorney general, along with businesses and residents, to sue local governments that don't follow the law.
  • The government-run sites. The bill says areas can be designated as temporary campsites for up to one year. They must be monitored by law enforcement agencies, provide mental health services, and have running water. Drug and alcohol use will be banned. It's not clear what will happen to the sites after one year, or if communities will be able to agree on sites for the camps, reports the Washington Post.
  • Criminalizing homelessness. Florida International University associate sociology professor Matthew Marr tells Axios that the bill could have the effect of criminalizing homelessness. "It seems to me that it's an effort to clear out encampments from public space and put people into regulated spaces—out of sight, generally," he says. Ron Book, chair of the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust, however, says the law "doesn't contemplate arrests" and could "lead to broader changes that will make Florida homeless free."
  • "Unworkable requirements." In a column at the Orlando Sentinel, Martha Are says that while the concept of setting up designed sites with security and services is "absolutely noble," the legislation includes "some completely unworkable requirements, and there is no funding available to make them viable." She notes that the bill states that encampments must not affect the value or security of nearby properties, meaning they are likely to be placed in industrial zones with no public transport for people to get to jobs or services. "What they need is not a sanctioned encampment all living together with little chance of getting out of homelessness, but innovative, humane, fiscally sound housing solutions with a roof over their heads," she writes.
(More Florida stories.)

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