TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP/WSVN) — Florida will ban thousands of homeless people from setting up camp or sleeping on public property under a bill lawmakers sent to Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who supports the idea.

Counties, with approval from the state Department of Children and Families, would be able to designate areas for the homeless to camp for up to a year under the bill the Senate passed 27-12 late Tuesday. Anyone using those encampments would be prohibited from using alcohol or illegal drugs.

On Wednesday, hours after the bill passed, 7News captured workers with Broward County Strategic Housing helping homeless people at the bus terminal on Broward Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale.

“Being here, reaching out to people, ‘Do you want help?’ ‘Do you want shelter?’ Do you want to get clean and sober?’ ‘Would you like to go to detox?'” said Homeless Initiative Partnership Administrator Dr. Rebecca McGuire. “We have been really quite successful.”

But life for many homeless people in the Sunshine State is about to change following passage of Florida House Bill 1365, also known as the Unauthorized Public Camping and Public Sleeping Bill. It places the burden on cities and counties to ban people from sleeping in public places, forcing local government to create the encampment sites and allowing to be sued by businesses if it’s not enforced.

“Come October, there’s going to be a different landscape for the homeless,” said James Miller, a homeless man in Broward County. “You’re not going to be able to [rest on] the bus benches and the street benches. You’re not going to be able to utilize them.”

“It’s very important that this bill not get to the level where it criminalizes homelessness by saying, ‘You can’t be here, it’s unlawful for you to be here, so now we’re going to take you to jail,'” said McGuire. “Broward County is going to do everything within their power to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

Supporters say the bill will help eliminate the nuisance of homeless people living on public property and parks. They also argue it will be easier to provide local services to the homeless if they’re in one location.

“It’s our responsibility to deal with homelessness and that’s why we can’t wait any longer to bring this solution. The current model is not working,” said Republican Sen. Jonathan Martin, the bill’s sponsor. “This bill is a compassionate response to the shortage of shelters.”

Martin said about 30,000 Floridians don’t have a home, and about half of them don’t have shelter.

But opponents said the bill is simply an effort to gather up the homeless and get them out of public view.

The bill does provide for minimum standards for the encampments, but there is an exception. It reads in part, “A fiscally constrained county is exempt from the requirement to establish and maintain minimum standards.”

“When you say that Miami will have to provide sanitation but Hamilton County will not … this bill is crap,” said Democratic Sen. Jason Pizzo. “If you really believed it, ma’am, you’d put your own district up as a pilot test case.”

“This bill does not and it will not address the more pressing and root cause of homelessness,” said Democratic Sen. Shevrin Jones. “We are literally reshuffling the visibility of unhoused individuals with no exit strategy for people who are experiencing homelessness.”

“People would be placed, either voluntarily or involuntarily, in the encampments, where nothing has been provided for their safety, for sanitation, for running water,” said Democratic Sen. Geraldine Thompson.

However, Ron Book of the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust said the bill is not perfect, 10 cities don’t work, but it’s a start, and he hopes it sparks a larger conversation.

“There are three things you need to end homelessness: you need a plan, you need money, and you need leadership,” he said. “Nobody wants homelessness in their community. We have to work to end it together.”

Opponents also said there’s nothing in the bill that ensures sexual offenders and children won’t be living in close proximity in the government-designated encampments, or that the encampments will be safe and sanitary.

“Implementing this program statewide would cost over $500 million. There’s no appropriation attached to this legislation,” said Thompson.

The bill defines public camping as “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.”

It wouldn’t apply to people sleeping in legally parked vehicles.

“These are not easy decisions; they’re tough decisions. It’s a tough subject,” said Book.

DCF has been tasked to offer support to families. Opponents say the department already has its own issues with case loads.

The bill will take effect Oct. 1 if signed by DeSantis.

Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Join our Newsletter for the latest news right to your inbox