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Ocala set to revise open lodging ordinance after anti-homeless provision found unconstitutional

An excerpt from Ocala's open lodging ordinance cited in a federal lawsuit.
An excerpt from Ocala's open lodging ordinance cited in a federal lawsuit.

The Ocala City Council on Tuesday will consider changing its open lodging ordinance after a federal judge found part of it unconstitutional.

The American Civil Liberties Union and others sued the city on behalf of three men for “criminalizing homelessness.”

The ACLU of Florida says the men had been arrested repeatedly. One had spent 219 days in jail and was assessed more than four-thousand dollars on 10 counts of violating the ordinance.

Under the current code, one reason to arrest someone sleeping outdoors is if they say they are homeless.

In a summary judgment last week, Judge James S. Moody Jr. said police cannot do that without first determining there are shelter beds available. It amounts to punishing someone for being homeless.

In response, the city attorney wants the council to remove the reference to homelessness. He says the city has enforced its open lodging law whether people are homeless or not.

The judge also voided trespass warnings issued against the men because Ocala’s process doesn't provide a reason for the warning or a means to contest it.

Joe Byrnes came to WMFE/WMFV from the Ocala Star-Banner and The Gainesville Sun, where he worked as a reporter and editor for several years. Joe graduated from Loyola University in New Orleans and turned to journalism after teaching. He enjoys freshwater fishing and family gatherings.
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