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Solutions for the homeless? Here's why some in South Florida won't back state plan for camps

Susannah Bryan, Lisa J. Huriash, South Florida Sun Sentinel on

Published in News & Features

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Like other states around the nation, Florida is home to tens of thousands of people who live on the street — a fact of life that has vexed city and county leaders for decades.

Now, state legislators are swooping in with what some are calling a cutting-edge solution to the homeless crisis they say will make streets both safer and cleaner in the Sunshine State.

The new law would force counties and cities in Florida to ban the homeless from sleeping in public places but allow local governments to set up designated camps with running water, toilets, security and access to mental health services.

Critics say the proposed state law stands in stark contrast to current best practices that call for moving homeless people into housing and would result in more arrests of people living on the street.

Advocates argue it’s a revolutionary approach that will solve a problem that so far has defied solution.

Gov. Ron DeSantis spoke in favor of the proposed legislation in early February during a news conference in Miami Beach.

 

“We cannot allow any city in Florida to become like San Francisco, where homelessness, drugs, and crime have decimated the quality of life, hurt the economy, and eroded freedom,” DeSantis said. “In Florida we will continue to enact policies that promote accountability and community safety, unlike in California where they are promoting dangerous policies that harm their communities and economy.”

The proposal includes: Prohibiting camping on city streets, sidewalks and parks; creating state enforcement tools to ensure local governments comply; increasing funding for homeless shelters, while requiring occupants to abstain from drugs and use workforce services; and increasing funding for substance abuse and mental health treatment.

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

The proposal has found support from unlikely backers, including homeless advocate Sean Cononie, an activist who was paid $5 million in 2015 to shut down his Hollywood homeless shelter and leave town for 30 years.

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