DeSantis Backs Efforts to Get Homeless Off Streets
TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday supported legislation that seeks to prevent homeless people from sleeping in public places such as streets, sidewalks and parks, as a Senate committee moved forward with the proposal.
“I think what we’re envisioning is providing some support for counties for additional sheltering, providing some financial support for both substance abuse (programs) and mental health,” DeSantis said during a news conference in Miami Beach, as he stood behind a podium that said: “Don’t Allow Florida to become San Francisco.”
“What we don’t want to see in the legislation is any incentive to create homeless camps, particularly in areas that would interfere with the public conducting normal business,” DeSantis added.
DeSantis’ comments came hours before the Senate Judiciary Committee backed a revised bill (SB 1530), proposed by Sen. Jonathan Martin, R-Fort Myers, that would give local governments the option to designate certain property for sleeping or camping if they meet standards set by the Florida Department of Children and Families.
The Senate proposal would limit to one year the continuous use of areas designated for homeless people and would require that the locations have access to such things as restrooms and running water, have security, provide access to health care and be deemed alcohol and drug free. Also, under the bill, the sites could not adversely affect values of nearby properties or safety.
Martin said the aim is to help homeless people get needed treatment, not to “step on the toes” of local not-for-profits. Also, he pointed to wanting to make sure public spaces can be enjoyed by taxpayers.
“The goal is to take people who have mental-health issues, who have substance-abuse issues, who are sleeping in public parks, public parks that we fund with a lot of money every single year here in Tallahassee, making sure those public parks and those public space are used for what they are intended,” Martin said.
The bill, which needs to pass the Rules Committee before it could go to the full Senate, also would encourage people and businesses to file lawsuits if local governments don’t follow the proposed rules.
Democrats questioned putting people into “encampments” rather than working to get them needed assistance.
Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book, D-Davie, called the proposal “a start” and suggested Martin discuss an approach to homelessness taken by the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust, which is chaired by lobbyist Ron Book, her father.
The trust works daily to build rapport with homeless people to determine assistance, Sen. Book said.
“I would suggest that some of the rhetoric out there that came out this morning, not turning Florida to San Francisco, that’s not where your true heart is with this.” Book told Martin. “This is really about making a difference for people experiencing homelessness.”
Sen. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, said she was stressed to hear opponents call the proposal a “roundup” and a “punishment,” as the locally designated locations would be “a safe place” where people “living in the woods” can get services.
The House version of the bill (HB 1365) has cleared one panel and awaits an appearance before the House Judiciary Committee.
Meanwhile, DeSantis used the news conference to also say the state remains on “stand-by” for calls for assistance from local law enforcement about spring break.
“You can come, but you’re not going to be able to do some of the things that have been happening,” DeSantis said. “And if that’s made very clear at the front end, I think it’s going to be much smoother for everybody.”
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