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New Florida Bill Could Force Unhoused People Into Encampments

The bill would prohibit cities from allowing unhoused people to sleep or camp on public property and rights of way.

Unhoused people bed down for the night outdoors in the alcoves of the Sarasota County Jail building in Sarasota, Florida, on April 8, 2016.

A Florida bill that would ban houseless people from sleeping in public places and force them into encampments is progressing through the House and Senate after receiving vocal support from Gov. Ron DeSantis. Senate Bill 1530 and House Bill 1365 would prohibit city and county governments from allowing houseless people to sleep or camp on public property and rights of way. The bills call for the creation of encampment sites where houseless people will be allowed to stay and for a portion of funding to be directed toward mental health and shelter facilities. Houseless advocates and formerly houseless individuals say the bills are discriminatory and dehumanizing toward houseless people.

“It’s an incredibly discriminatory, racist, elitist, and repressive bill that looks to dehumanize the poor, the Black, and the homeless and designate people as undesirable and take them out of the cities where they can’t afford these increasingly unaffordable, escalating skyrocketing rents and put them into camps outside of cities,” said David Peery, a formerly houseless advocate and the founder of Miami Coalition to Advance Racial Equity. “This has been a longstanding goal of certain really fascist repressive people throughout the years.”

The bills are now advancing through the Fiscal Policy committee in the Senate and the Health and Human Services Committee in the House. DeSantis expressed support for the bill during a press conference in Miami Beach on Feb. 4 but said he did not support the creation of encampments, “particularly in areas that would interfere with the public conducting normal business.”

The disapproval mirrors a similar “NIMBY”-ism (not in my back yard) that Miami commissioners faced when they tried to move houseless individuals to a historic Black beach in 2022. After thousands of locals protested the decision, some because of the inhospitable living conditions it would create for houseless individuals and the environmental implications and others because of prejudice against having houseless individuals near their recreational area, the idea was rejected. A location is still being determined.

“One of the reasons why this proposal is unlikely to work is because … nobody is going to want any type of homeless camp [anywhere] near where they work or live,” Peery said, adding that legislators are “blinded” by their hatred of the poor. “That just tells you that in their mind it’s, ‘Let’s just deport them to uninhabited islands. They’re out of sight, out of mind.’”

Florida has had the third-largest houseless population in the nation since 2020, behind California and New York. In 2023, the state had 30,809 unhoused individuals, according to the annual report by Florida’s Council on Homelessness.

Peery and other advocates have been calling for a housing-first approach, which prioritizes providing housing for people so that their most basic needs can be addressed. Conservative think tanks like the Cicero Institute strongly oppose this model and have created model legislation that further criminalizes houselessness.

“These efforts have been spearheaded by very conservative think tanks, very conservative people that simply want to relegate the poor into the areas where they cannot see them,” Peery said. “They certainly want to use and exploit the poor for their labor in order to produce their wealth that they can use, but they don’t want to see them.”

In the 2018 case Martin v. Boise, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that it’s cruel and unusual punishment to criminalize camping on public property when the people in question have nowhere else they can legally sleep. In 2019, the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of that case. The case could now be overturned in Grants Pass v. Johnson, when the Supreme Court decides whether cities can legally ban or limit unhoused people camping in public spaces. If the Supreme Court rules that this prohibition is not cruel and unusual punishment, they could open the door for anyone camping out anywhere in the country to be arrested, whether a shelter bed is available or not.

“It’s a very serious thing, and it can absolutely have implications for this law that they’re trying to pass in Florida,” said Florida houseless advocate and member of Food Not Bombs Jeff Weinberger. “I think this is a horrible, horrible law. They are trying to control individuals’ freedom of movement … We have a constitutionally protected freedom of movement in this country, and to tell people that the only way they can exist in this world is if they’re living in a sanctioned encampment, where their lives are very much going to be controlled by the state, there’s another name for that, and it’s not encampment, it’s prison.”

Weinberger urges citizens to contact their local officials and voice their concerns with the bills.

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