LEON COUNTY, Fla. (WTXL) — "Penalizing us and making it a crime to be poor is just inhumane."
The Leon County Commission is proposing a new ordinance to make it illegal for people to camp and sleep on public and private property, unless permission is given by a property owner.
Commissioners say they're doing this to protect the public health, safety, and sanitation of homeless individuals and the entire community.
Trish Brown, a local civil rights activist, says this is not the answer...
"Poverty-impacted people can't afford these fines and these penalties, if they can't afford these fines and penalties, what's going to happen?"
Punishment will not be given right away. Instead, the county is going to work diligently with the city, Big Bend Continuum of Care, and other community shelters like the Kearney Center to get homeless individuals wrap-around services and a place to stay, first.
However, Kim Ladner, the Director of the Kearney Center, says some people choose to sleep outside of shelters due to mental health issues. Ladner said in a statement Monday:
"We believe that funding coordinated outreach teams to access, build rapport and house unsheltered folks directly from the street into safe affordable housing is a much better option than putting someone into jail."
Over the next 2 years, 6.3 million dollars in city and county American Rescue Plan funding will go towards expanding these coordinated street outreach teams and increasing shelter, prevention, and permanent housing services.
As for the ordinance, Trish Brown hopes different solutions will come before it passes.
"Put up port-o-potties, put up shower units, give them areas where they can live and keep all of us sustained."
The proposed ordinance will also make it unlawful to solicit and panhandle along medians and roadways to better protect public safety.
The Leon County Commission will meet Tuesday at 3 PM to debate the draft ordinance, and vote to schedule a Public Hearing to adopt it on February 8th.