Florida is going to make it illegal for homeless people to sleep on public land

In an attempt to tackle the persistent issue of homelessness, Florida is poised to implement a new law that prohibits thousands of homeless individuals from sleeping or setting up camps on public properties.

This legislative move has recently been approved by lawmakers and is currently awaiting the signature of Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, who has expressed his support for the measure.

The new bill allows counties, upon receiving approval from the state Department of Children and Families, to establish designated camping areas for homeless individuals.

These designated areas are permitted to operate for up to a year. However, strict rules accompany this provision: individuals staying in these areas are barred from consuming alcohol or engaging in illegal drug activities.

Proponents of the bill argue that it aims to alleviate the issue of homeless individuals occupying public parks and properties, which they see as a nuisance. They believe that by consolidating homeless populations into specific areas, it will be more feasible to provide them with local services and assistance.

According to Republican Senator Jonathan Martin, the bill’s sponsor, this approach is a compassionate response to the state’s lack of shelter facilities. He highlighted the urgency of addressing homelessness, pointing out that approximately 30,000 Floridians are without homes, with around half of them lacking access to shelter.

Nevertheless, the bill has faced significant opposition. Critics argue that it merely seeks to remove homeless individuals from public view without addressing the underlying causes of homelessness.

Democratic Senator Shevrin Jones voiced concerns that the legislation fails to provide a sustainable exit strategy for those experiencing homelessness, merely shuffling their visibility without resolving their predicaments.

Additionally, concerns have been raised regarding the safety and conditions of the government-designated encampments. There are no provisions within the bill that prevent sexual offenders and children from residing in close proximity within these areas. Critics also question whether these encampments will meet safety and sanitation standards.

The bill delineates ‘public camping’ as the act of residing overnight outdoors in a temporary habitation — such as a tent or other makeshift shelter — and includes indicators like the presence of bedding, pillows, or personal belongings. It is noteworthy that the legislation exempts individuals sleeping in legally parked vehicles from this ban.

Scheduled to take effect on October 1st, if endorsed by Governor DeSantis, the law stands as a controversial attempt to address the visible symptoms of homelessness without necessarily tackling its root causes.

This has ignited a debate between those who view it as a step towards organizing and aiding homeless populations and those who see it as a superficial measure that overlooks the deeper issues at play. As the implementation date approaches, the effectiveness and impact of this legislation on Florida’s homeless community remain to be seen.