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Senate, House tee up homeless bills, would ban public sleeping

A homeless camp in Immokalee. The Point In Time count took place in Lee and Collier Counties. Volunteers walked the parking lots, woods, parks, and even set up a basecamp in areas they know the homeless will be at to get a count on the need in the area. The face of the homeless has changed over the past few years. The first time homeless made mostly up of elderly and single parents with kids are starting to outnumber the chronic homeless.
Andrea Melendez/WGCU
A homeless camp in Immokalee. Legislation backed by Gov. Ron DeSantis that seeks to prevent homeless people from sleeping in public places.

TALLAHASSEE --- Legislation backed by Gov. Ron DeSantis that seeks to prevent homeless people from sleeping in public places is ready to go to the full Senate and House.

The Senate Fiscal Policy Committee on Thursday voted 14-4 to back the Senate version of the bill (SB 1530), a short time after the House Health & Human Services Committee voted 17-3 to approve the House version (HB 1365).

“The model that we are currently using, which is everyone can go find somewhere to live wherever they want, on someone else’s property or in a government park or using government resources, that’s not working,” Senate sponsor Jonathan Martin, R-Fort Myers, said. “These numbers are getting bigger and bigger. We’ve seen these numbers explode in certain parts of the country and we want to be proactive in Florida.”

Critics said the proposal would increase local costs and simply reshuffle the locations of homeless people.

Sen. Rosalind Osgood, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat who once was homeless, said local governments already have “aggressive plans and approaches” to address homelessness. She said when her community tried to operate homeless camps, “that didn’t work.”

Under the bills, local governments would be able to designate certain property for sleeping or camping if they meet standards set by the Florida Department of Children and Families.

Such areas, which could only be used for one year, would need 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.

Residents or business owners would have standing to file civil lawsuits against local governments for allowing illegal sleeping or camping on public property.

The legislation wouldn’t provide state money to cover the costs of the temporary locations.

Fiscally constrained counties --- mostly rural counties --- would be exempted if the requirements create a financial hardship.

DeSantis reiterated his support for the proposal Thursday.

“When you have municipalities where you may have leadership that has a different philosophical bent than I think most Floridians would have on this, there's a danger that this could be something that could explode in one of our cities in Florida,” DeSantis said during an appearance in Lake Buena Vista.

DeSantis added, “We cannot have a family, unsafe, just walking down the street of some place in Orlando or Miami Beach or wherever because of some massive homeless encampment that’s intruded on day-to-day life.”