New anti-homeless law to take effect Oct. 1
Empty park bench in Sarasota. Photo by Alexandra Levy.

New anti-homeless law to take effect Oct. 1

House Bill 1365 prohibits Florida cities and counties from allowing anyone to sleep or camp outside without a permit, a law that disproportionately targets the homeless. The bill defines “public camping or sleeping” as “lodging or residing overnight in a temporary outdoor habitation used as a dwelling or living space and evidenced by the erection of a tent or other temporary shelter, the presence of bedding or pillows or the storage of personal belongings; or lodging or residing overnight in an outdoor space without a tent or other temporary shelter.” 

Proposed by Sen. Jonathan Martin (R-Fort Myers), the legislation claims to encourage designated camping and sleeping spots within communities. However, those in areas deemed undesignated could be arrested. Further, according to a report by WFLA, the bill encourages local communities and businesses to sue municipalities or cities that are not following the new law. 

“I think these protections will be very good for Floridians,” Gov. Ron DeSantis was quoted as saying in the Feb. news report.  “I think it will ensure that we don’t see part of our state descend into the madness that you’ve seen in places like San Francisco, New York City or Seattle.”

DeSantis stated that he is open to “providing financial support” to communities for shelters or mental health, but the bill has no concrete funding for the homeless who will be evicted from places where they currently sleep outside.  

CEO of the Homeless Services Network of Central Florida Martha Are has asked legislators to include funding in the bill that could be used to provide proper shelters and prevent “unintended consequences,” such as arrests. 

According to NPR, Are stated, “We do know that the numbers of unsheltered people 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. The General Accounting Office tells us, when your rent goes up $100, you’re going to have a 9 percent increase in your homeless population, and our region and much of the state have seen just that.”

The Sarasota area is no stranger to laws against homeless citizens. According to Sarasota Underground, the National Coalition for the Homeless declared Sarasota “America’s Meanest City” for its laws in 2006. In 2011, the city removed benches from downtown’s Five Points Park rather than allow the homeless to sit on them.

As of Jan. 2023, the homeless population in the combined Sarasota-Manatee County was more than 1100, with 594 in Manatee County and 544 in Sarasota County, according to ABC News.  

Willa Tinsley’s (’22) senior thesis,  “Some Kind of Light Listening to the Streets of Sarasota,” explores the lives of those living outdoors in Sarasota and homelessness activism. “I have my own opinions of how the government could ease its boot from the backs of people on the street. These opinions revolve mainly around legalizing vagrancy/camping/squatting and providing resources such as showers to the homeless,” Tinsley wrote in her conclusion. 

“To speak of ‘solutions’ to homelessness is a fallacy in many ways. Nomadic lifestyles have existed since the dawn of time and are not a problem to be eradicated. Homelessness as it exists for many on the streets, homelessness as raggedy, is a feature of our late capitalist society and will continue to exist, and indeed worsen, as long as our society does.” 

HB 1365 passed with only one dissent and without any amendment. DeSantis signed the bill on March 20.

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