Florida’s bill banning public sleeping and camping: Explained
Legislation making its way through the Florida Legislature could ban encampments and sleeping on public property.
House Bill 1365 and Senate Bill 1530 would prohibit counties and municipalities from allowing any sleeping or camping on public grounds without a permit. The bills cite concerns over sanitation and provide exceptions in cases of declared emergencies.
Proponents have said the new legislation would help keep public order and safety. However, advocates for people living in homelessness have said the bills will divert necessary funding and resources that could help jurisdictions address their unique housing challenges and avoid further criminalizing an already vulnerable population.
Martha Are, the CEO of the Homeless Services Network of Central Florida, has talked with legislators, asking them to include funding in the bill that could be used to provide proper shelters and prevent “unintended consequences.”
“We appreciate that the legislature is recognizing that any kind of encampment or shelter needs to have some kind of minimum standards, however, that also comes at a cost. And without funding available, many jurisdictions are not going to have a viable way to fulfill those requirements,” Are said. “If they do not have the funding to make one of these locations happen, they will find themselves in a position where all they can do is relocate people out of the community — or arrest them.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis signaled his support for the state legislation at a press conference Monday in Miami Beach. Standing behind a podium that read “Don’t let Florida become San Francisco,” the governor grouped issues of homelessness, drug use, criminal activity, mental health, and sanitation.
“I mean, you look at places like San Francisco where you can rob the stores blind and they don't do anything,” DeSantis said. “We're not going to let the streets be taken over, we're not going to let the residents who live here have their quality of life diminished, we're not going to let — allow businesses to be hurt by public disorder on the streets.”
Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Mark Glass backed the Governor, and said Florida is the safest it’s ever been under its current administration.
“Citizens living near homeless camps, and people visiting businesses near the homeless camps, by proximity become more vulnerable. House Bill 1365 makes all our citizens safer by ensuring security is present at homeless camps,” Glass said.
Glass didn’t mention any specific changes or measures to ensure the safety of unhoused residents.
On Monday afternoon, Are appeared at a Senate committee meeting in Tallahassee, speaking against the bill’s current verbiage and asking for funding provisions to build shelters and provide resources that lead to permanently housing individuals.
Are said that, in the last year, her organization and partners have housed 3,600 people experiencing homelessness, with more than 90% remaining housed.
“We do know that the numbers of people unsheltered are increasing. We also know that it’s not because we all of a sudden have more people in our communities with mental illness or job loss, but instead it is because we have skyrocketing rents,” Are said. “The General Accounting Office tells us, when your rent goes up $100, you're going to have a 9% increase in your homeless population, and our region and much of the state have seen just that.”
Housing prices, mortgage interest rates, rent costs, and eviction filings reached record highs across the state last year. DeSantis did not address those issues this week when speaking about the bills.
However, while saying that homelessness in Florida has gotten better, DeSantis also said it’s become an unmanageable issue.
“My bottom line is, we just want the streets safe. We don't want homeless(ness) to be an issue in everyday life. And that's what it's become — it's overwhelmed day-to-day life in some of these cities throughout the U.S. And that, first of all, is not good for the public, but it also really isn't good for the people that are out camping on the streets,” DeSantis said. “There's going to be better ways to not only protect the public, but also to help some of these individuals who have issues that need to be addressed.”
The bill currently does not offer the provisions for funding that advocates request, but the governor said that, if the new legislation passes, it will need the right tools to work.
“I am open to providing financial support for communities for things like sheltering, also for things to try to address some of the mental health problems that we see with people on the street.”
According to the bill, municipalities can provide shelter for unhoused individuals as long as the facilities comply with sanitation and don’t affect “the security or value” of adjacent properties.
But without funding provisions, Are said jurisdictions could be forced to group what she called “a challenging mix to provide services for,” such as women and children with single men and older adults, as well as people with mental health issues or substance use disorders — all in the same place.
She said the community of people experiencing homelessness has expressed worry.
“People who are experiencing homelessness are definitely concerned. Many say that is not the type of encampment that they would feel safe at or that they would want to go to — that this is not going to help them get into and maintain stable housing,” Are said.
According to Are, relocation of people who live unsheltered and often occupy public spaces could weigh heavily on some regions, while alleviating others, which prompt feuds between jurisdictions.
Are also said the new legislation would divert funds from more effective solutions, such as housing, to invest into band-aid solutions, such as shelters.
On Monday, the House version of the bill was added to the Judiciary Committee agenda. SB 1530 passed favorably through the Senate Judiciary Committee Monday afternoon, without changes and only one dissenting vote.
Lillian Hernández Caraballo is a Report for America corps member.