Saying that while no city in Florida is contending with the issues of homelessness that are prevalent in places like San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York City, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday came out in support of a proposal moving through the Florida Legislature that would ban local governments from allowing people to sleep on public property without a permit.
But he added that he would be willing to provide financial resources to any city or county who requested help in adding shelter space or for programs dealing with mental health issues and substance abuse.
“The Legislature is considering doing something to just ensure from a statewide perspective we’re not going to let any city turn into a San Francisco,” DeSantis declared at a press conference held in Miami Beach. “Not on our watch. We’re not going to let that happen. We’re going to have protections for people.”
The governor said that he was supportive of the Legislature moving in this direction as long as it was focused on “ensuring public order. Ensuring quality of life for residents. Ensuring that people’s property values are maintained. Ensuring that businesses are able to operate unobstructed without these problems bleeding.”
The homelessness-related legislation refers to a measure sponsored in the Florida House by Clay County Republican Sam Garrison (HB 1365), which would prohibit any city or county in Florida from authorizing or permitting public sleeping or camping on public property, public buildings or public rights-of-way without a lawfully temporary permit. It’s Senate equivalent (SB 1530) is sponsored by Lee County Republican Jonathan Martin.
The measure also says that if a city or county wanted to continue to provide a public place for the homeless, they need to provide a wealth of public services: access to clean running water and bathroom facilities; 24-hour security; a ban on drug and alcohol use for all users and access to substance abuse and mental health treatment resources; and it may not be in a location where it “adversely and materially affects the value or security of existing residential or commercial properties.”
Though critics charge that the legislation “criminalizes” being homeless, there are no criminal penalties in Garrison’s bill. There are civil penalties, however. The bill says that a person or business may bring a civil action in any court against any local government that did open a space for the homeless without those public services. If that person or business was successful in their lawsuit, the bill says that they could be reimbursed for court costs and attorney fees.
DeSantis added that he was “open” to providing financial support for local governments when it comes to issues of public shelters for the homeless, as well funding for programs that affect the homeless, such as mental health and substance abuse.
Joining DeSantis at the press conference was Miami Beach Mayor Steven Meiner, who discussed an ordinance approved by the Miami Beach Commission last fall that allows the police to arrest homeless people for sleeping on public streets or the public right of way if they decline placement in a shelter, as reported by the Miami Herald.
DeSantis and Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Mark Glass boasted about how homelessness has decreased in Florida, but that’s not actually accurate.
According to the most recent “point in time” count conducted in January of 2023 in Florida, there were approximately 15,706 individuals who were unsheltered, which is defined as people sleeping in cars, park benches, abandoned buildings, or other places not meant for human habitation. That was a 34% increase from the year before, according to the Florida’s Council on Homelessness’ most recent annual report.
DeSantis said that while the level of homelessness in Florida isn’t nearly as bad as some cities on the West Coast, part of being a good leader is to “see what hurdles could be 5 years out. Ten years out.”
–Mitch Perry, Florida Phoenix