Bill banning homeless camping moves step closer to DeSantis’ desk

'The last thing we need in Florida is a poop map, like what happened in San Francisco,' Republican Sen. Jon Martin of Fort Myers says
Posted at 7:15 PM, Feb 05, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-05 19:15:33-05

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A plan to ban those experiencing homelessness in Florida from camping in public places is looking more likely to reach Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk, who suggested Monday he’d sign it. It came as lawmakers moved the bill through another committee, later in the day.

Monday’s Senate Judiciary hearing was just the latest to approve the legislation. The GOP majority continued to have the votes needed to advance the bill closer to the finish line, now emboldened by DeSantis' endorsement during a Miami Beach news conference.

"We’re not going to let any city turn into a San Francisco," the Republican governor said. "Not on our watch. We're not going to let that happen. We’re going to have protection for people.”

If signed into law, the policy prohibits "overnight camping" or sleeping on public property like streets, sidewalks or parks. Under the threat of civil action, cities and counties would instead be required to create designated areas for the homeless. The camps would need running water, restrooms, and access to mental health services, plus restrictions on drugs and alcohol use.

"The last thing we need in Florida is a poop map, like what happened in San Francisco," Sen. Jon Martin of Fort Meyers, who is carrying the upper chamber’s version, said.

The lawmaker sees the change as a win-win. Unhoused would be redirected, he said, to safe spaces and away from public parks and facilities.

"We're not outlawing homelessness," Martin said. "It's already illegal to sleep in a public park, it's already illegal to sleep on a sidewalk. What we want to do is start a process so that the cities and localities and not-for-profits and the state of Florida can work together with all of our agencies combined to tackle this problem once and for all."

Critics have pushed back, hard. Democratic Sen. Lori Berman of Boynton Beach has multiple concerns. Among them, local governments will have to make major investments to create the homeless camping zones, spending tax dollars to make them happen. Beyond that Berman felt the bill’s language was too vague.

“What happens to homeless people?" she said. "Are they subject to being arrested? Are they becoming criminals? Under this bill? We asked that question. We didn't really get an answer... I mean, obviously, there's a better way.”

Current versions of the legislation don’t include penalties for unhoused who break the rules. Local governments, however, might be encouraged to create some if this bill becomes law, which is looking more and more likely.

The governor also has mentioned backing financial support for cities and counties to create some of these camping zones. He didn’t get into specifics but that could potentially take some of the sting out of the idea for critics lining up against the policy as it moves forward.