×

Warning

JUser: :_load: Unable to load user with ID: 222
Search - JEvents
Search - Categories
Search - Contacts
Search - Content
Search - News Feeds
Search - Web Links
Search - SunBay
Search - JComments
Tuesday, 14 June 2016 15:17

Meanwhile 100 Miles North The Homeless Can't Sleep, Beg or Even Sit

Written by
Rate this item
(0 votes)

SARASOTA, Fla. — The homeless so skillfully weave themselves into our urban landscapes that we sometimes don’t even notice they are with us. On Fort Myers Beach, they are easier to see since there is only one major thoroughfare – Estero Boulevard – and everyone is seen when they are on it. Everyday a steady trickle of homeless people walk to God’s Table at Chapel by the Sea to get a meal, some clean clothes and later hang out on the Lee Tran bench to smoke and converse. They are a fixure and some of them have been here so long we’d feel something was missing if we didn’t see them.

 
Fort Myers Beach is not the only place in Florida with a resident homeless population. Warm weather and a relatively rich and generous demographic of retired folks who can afford their homes near the water, make Florida a Meca for those who live on the streets of our communities.
While there is a general acceptance of the homeless here, elsewhere the way towns and cities treat these “hidden” residents is in flux.
Just a short drive away, in Sarasota an article was recently written about one homeless man - David Cross who has been on the streets so long that he is known as the “mayor.” For many years people going to and fro with their daily grind would see Cross sitting in Five Points Park, a greenway in the heart of this prosperous city.
Then the city decided to remove the park bench where he held daily court. Then the town’s wise fathers enacted a new panhandling ordinance making it illegal to beg for money in most areas around the city. And then, according to reports, “he was given a written infraction for sleeping outside.”
So, joining other homeless activists around the U.S., the 66-year-old Cross sued Sarasota, claiming the city is using the power of law and regulation to take his right to sleep and as his lawyers say “just exist.” By criminalizing homelessness, jurisdictions are making it punishable just to live without money or connections and that is just plain wrong, says Cross. And he is not alone in this view, the ACLU has taken several similar cases and there are also numerous social justice attorneys taking cases like his on a pro bono basis.
As Florida continues to grow and downtowns are revitalized, the homeless are increasingly viewed as conflicting with the ambiance of laid-back chic and stylized tropical living cachet sought by the influx of well-to-do retirees, tourists, working professionals and business owners. As once-blighted streets are renewed, many want the homeless gone and they are not above legislating that result. When the ongoing revitalization of FMB is complete it is likely that community will face similar issues and challenges in how they will treat the ever-present homeless population essentially living on Estero Boulevard in plain sight.
Meanwhile across America, cities continue to crackdown and enact wave after wave of new laws against panhandling, camping and other activities associated with homelessness. Authorities are mixed over how far social engineering can go, but most agree that such regulations do help preserve the renewed vitality, reduce crime, lower health problems and stop aberrant behaviors that trouble residents and disrupt the flow business.
 
The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, conducted a study in over 187 cities that found between 2011 and 2014 “bans against sleeping in cars increased up 119 percent, laws against citywide camping went up 60 percent, anti-loitering laws climbed 35 percent and anti-begging or panhandling laws increased 25 percent.
Some legal actions became very controversial like the initiative in Miami that caused a minister to be arrested for distributing food to the homeless. Lee County residents will remember back in 2003-2007 when residents of Fort Myers Beach were sharply divided over allowing local churches to feed the homeless. Some felt it would attract a hard-core cadre of “bums” that would be a blight on the island community and others felt it was their “Christian duty” to provide for the less fortunate. In the end, the program – God’s Table – was allowed to operate but only after residents made it clear they did not want any public sleeping at the Church. God’s Table operates to this day providing for the Island’s homeless.
While the Beach may have partially embraced those living on the streets, other communities have made it illegal to sit or lie in public and, in one city, a ban on using blankets outdoors was passed though the law was eventually reversed after a strong outcry.
Cross and others who advocate for the homeless argue that passing laws making it harder to live in the only place available to many – public streets, is cruel and is a misguided attempt to sweep the homeless under the rug rather than addressing the root causes and finding a solution to the issue. To them, it further illustrates the well-publicized growing gap between America’s rich and poor.
“It’s not illegal to be homeless,” Cross said.
Over a decade ago, Sarasota was named the “Meanest City in America” by homeless advocates for the plethora of ordinances aimed at the homeless. Just an hour away from Lee County, the picturesque beach community has undergone several hard political fights between those who want the homeless gone and those that want to provide for them. It is a city that is seen by many as a test location in the battle between street poverty and Florida’s urban renaissance.
The city’s balmy weather has drawn a large homeless population. On the streets, the contrast between panhandlers shaking cups and shoppers clutching bags from upscale boutiques is jarring.
City officials deny the allegations in Cross’s lawsuit and say that the city has moved to a progressive approach on homelessness in recent years. Officials have created teams to engage the homeless, adopted a comprehensive plan to deal with homelessness and are looking to create new housing.
“We still have work to do but are making gradual progress,” City Manager Tom Barwin wrote in an email.
A nationwide fight

Homeless men and women bed down for the night outdoors in the alcoves of the Sarasota County Jail. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)
Similar legal fights are playing out across the nation as the homeless challenge anti-panhandling ordinances, anti-camping laws and the seizure of their belongings in sweeps.
In Virginia, more than a dozen homeless alcoholics represented by the Legal Aid Justice Center sued the state’s prosecutors in March, claiming Virginia’s “habitual drunkard” law criminalizes addiction among those on the street and violates their constitutional rights.
The law allows prosecutors to ask the courts to designate someone a “habitual drunkard” if they have been shown to have a drinking problem. After the designation, the person can be jailed if they are caught with alcohol. Prosecutors say the law keeps drunks off the street. They have used the designation in more than 1,200 cases in recent years.
In Hawaii, the city of Honolulu was in the news again last week. Last fall, lawyers filed suit against the city on behalf of a group of homeless people, in response to what the mayor called a “war on homelessness.” According to officials with the mayor’s office, the suit was prompted by complaints from residents and tourists who said the number of panhandlers and visible homeless had reached “epidemic” proportions. In response the city passed laws banning sitting and lying on sidewalks, erecting “temporary shelters” and closed parks at night and dismantled one of the nation’s largest homeless encampments.
“The lawsuit accused the city of illegally trashing medicine, identification papers and food storage during the sweep, leaving homeless children hungry. A settlement was recently reached that forbids the city from seizing certain items,” reported the Post.
From the perspective of social justice activists there have been some successes with the legal actions. When the homeless challenged broad anti-panhandling laws in Springfield, Ill., Oklahoma City, and Sacramento County, Calif., on grounds it violates freedom of speech grounds, the localities abrogated portions of their anti-homeless ordinances and in a few instances overturned the rules outright.
In response to the increase in laws aimed against the homeless and the ongoing legal battles across the Nation, The Obama administration has taken steps many see as supporting the social activists.
Just last August, the Justice Department filed a brief in a Boise, Idaho, lawsuit challenging that city’s camping ordinance. The case failed to reach a holding on the merits and was dismissed over an issue of standing, but federal attorneys argued that it was unconstitutional for police to cite the homeless for sleeping outdoors when there is insufficient shelter space. Since no ruling was ever made that considered these contentions it remains to be seen if this approach will sway courts in a future case.
Again, last fall, according to the Post, “the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced that it would consider whether a municipality has implemented a strategy to prevent the criminalization of homelessness when awarding some grants.”
SARASOTA, Fla. — The homeless so skillfully weave themselves into our urban landscapes that we sometimes don’t even notice they are with us. On Fort Myers Beach, they are easier to see since there is only one major thoroughfare – Estero Boulevard – and everyone is seen when they are on it. Everyday a steady trickle of homeless people walk to God’s Table at Chapel by the Sea to get a meal, some clean clothes and later hang out on the Lee Tran bench to smoke and converse. They are a fixure and some of them have been here so long we’d feel something was missing if we didn’t see them.
 
Fort Myers Beach is not the only place in Florida with a resident homeless population. Warm weather and a relatively rich and generous demographic of retired folks who can afford their homes near the water, make Florida a Meca for those who live on the streets of our communities.
While there is a general acceptance of the homeless here, elsewhere the way towns and cities treat these “hidden” residents is in flux.
Just a short drive away, in Sarasota an article was recently written about one homeless man - David Cross who has been on the streets so long that he is known as the “mayor.” For many years people going to and fro with their daily grind would see Cross sitting in Five Points Park, a greenway in the heart of this prosperous city.
Then the city decided to remove the park bench where he held daily court. Then the town’s wise fathers enacted a new panhandling ordinance making it illegal to beg for money in most areas around the city. And then, according to reports, “he was given a written infraction for sleeping outside.”
So, joining other homeless activists around the U.S., the 66-year-old Cross sued Sarasota, claiming the city is using the power of law and regulation to take his right to sleep and as his lawyers say “just exist.” By criminalizing homelessness, jurisdictions are making it punishable just to live without money or connections and that is just plain wrong, says Cross. And he is not alone in this view, the ACLU has taken several similar cases and there are also numerous social justice attorneys taking cases like his on a pro bono basis.
As Florida continues to grow and downtowns are revitalized, the homeless are increasingly viewed as conflicting with the ambiance of laid-back chic and stylized tropical living cachet sought by the influx of well-to-do retirees, tourists, working professionals and business owners. As once-blighted streets are renewed, many want the homeless gone and they are not above legislating that result. When the ongoing revitalization of FMB is complete it is likely that community will face similar issues and challenges in how they will treat the ever-present homeless population essentially living on Estero Boulevard in plain sight.
Meanwhile across America, cities continue to crackdown and enact wave after wave of new laws against panhandling, camping and other activities associated with homelessness. Authorities are mixed over how far social engineering can go, but most agree that such regulations do help preserve the renewed vitality, reduce crime, lower health problems and stop aberrant behaviors that trouble residents and disrupt the flow business.
 
The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, conducted a study in over 187 cities that found between 2011 and 2014 “bans against sleeping in cars increased up 119 percent, laws against citywide camping went up 60 percent, anti-loitering laws climbed 35 percent and anti-begging or panhandling laws increased 25 percent.
Some legal actions became very controversial like the initiative in Miami that caused a minister to be arrested for distributing food to the homeless. Lee County residents will remember back in 2003-2007 when residents of Fort Myers Beach were sharply divided over allowing local churches to feed the homeless. Some felt it would attract a hard-core cadre of “bums” that would be a blight on the island community and others felt it was their “Christian duty” to provide for the less fortunate. In the end, the program – God’s Table – was allowed to operate but only after residents made it clear they did not want any public sleeping at the Church. God’s Table operates to this day providing for the Island’s homeless.
While the Beach may have partially embraced those living on the streets, other communities have made it illegal to sit or lie in public and, in one city, a ban on using blankets outdoors was passed though the law was eventually reversed after a strong outcry.
Cross and others who advocate for the homeless argue that passing laws making it harder to live in the only place available to many – public streets, is cruel and is a misguided attempt to sweep the homeless under the rug rather than addressing the root causes and finding a solution to the issue. To them, it further illustrates the well-publicized growing gap between America’s rich and poor.
“It’s not illegal to be homeless,” Cross said.
Over a decade ago, Sarasota was named the “Meanest City in America” by homeless advocates for the plethora of ordinances aimed at the homeless. Just an hour away from Lee County, the picturesque beach community has undergone several hard political fights between those who want the homeless gone and those that want to provide for them. It is a city that is seen by many as a test location in the battle between street poverty and Florida’s urban renaissance.
The city’s balmy weather has drawn a large homeless population. On the streets, the contrast between panhandlers shaking cups and shoppers clutching bags from upscale boutiques is jarring.
City officials deny the allegations in Cross’s lawsuit and say that the city has moved to a progressive approach on homelessness in recent years. Officials have created teams to engage the homeless, adopted a comprehensive plan to deal with homelessness and are looking to create new housing.
“We still have work to do but are making gradual progress,” City Manager Tom Barwin wrote in an email.
A nationwide fight

Homeless men and women bed down for the night outdoors in the alcoves of the Sarasota County Jail. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)
Similar legal fights are playing out across the nation as the homeless challenge anti-panhandling ordinances, anti-camping laws and the seizure of their belongings in sweeps.
In Virginia, more than a dozen homeless alcoholics represented by the Legal Aid Justice Center sued the state’s prosecutors in March, claiming Virginia’s “habitual drunkard” law criminalizes addiction among those on the street and violates their constitutional rights.
The law allows prosecutors to ask the courts to designate someone a “habitual drunkard” if they have been shown to have a drinking problem. After the designation, the person can be jailed if they are caught with alcohol. Prosecutors say the law keeps drunks off the street. They have used the designation in more than 1,200 cases in recent years.
In Hawaii, the city of Honolulu was in the news again last week. Last fall, lawyers filed suit against the city on behalf of a group of homeless people, in response to what the mayor called a “war on homelessness.” According to officials with the mayor’s office, the suit was prompted by complaints from residents and tourists who said the number of panhandlers and visible homeless had reached “epidemic” proportions. In response the city passed laws banning sitting and lying on sidewalks, erecting “temporary shelters” and closed parks at night and dismantled one of the nation’s largest homeless encampments.
“The lawsuit accused the city of illegally trashing medicine, identification papers and food storage during the sweep, leaving homeless children hungry. A settlement was recently reached that forbids the city from seizing certain items,” reported the Post.
From the perspective of social justice activists there have been some successes with the legal actions. When the homeless challenged broad anti-panhandling laws in Springfield, Ill., Oklahoma City, and Sacramento County, Calif., on grounds it violates freedom of speech grounds, the localities abrogated portions of their anti-homeless ordinances and in a few instances overturned the rules outright.
In response to the increase in laws aimed against the homeless and the ongoing legal battles across the Nation, The Obama administration has taken steps many see as supporting the social activists.
Just last August, the Justice Department filed a brief in a Boise, Idaho, lawsuit challenging that city’s camping ordinance. The case failed to reach a holding on the merits and was dismissed over an issue of standing, but federal attorneys argued that it was unconstitutional for police to cite the homeless for sleeping outdoors when there is insufficient shelter space. Since no ruling was ever made that considered these contentions it remains to be seen if this approach will sway courts in a future case.
Again, last fall, according to the Post, “the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced that it would consider whether a municipality has implemented a strategy to prevent the criminalization of homelessness when awarding some grants.”
SARASOTA, Fla. — The homeless so skillfully weave themselves into our urban landscapes that we sometimes don’t even notice they are with us. On Fort Myers Beach, they are easier to see since there is only one major thoroughfare – Estero Boulevard – and everyone is seen when they are on it. Everyday a steady trickle of homeless people walk to God’s Table at Chapel by the Sea to get a meal, some clean clothes and later hang out on the Lee Tran bench to smoke and converse. They are a fixure and some of them have been here so long we’d feel something was missing if we didn’t see them.
 
Fort Myers Beach is not the only place in Florida with a resident homeless population. Warm weather and a relatively rich and generous demographic of retired folks who can afford their homes near the water, make Florida a Meca for those who live on the streets of our communities.
While there is a general acceptance of the homeless here, elsewhere the way towns and cities treat these “hidden” residents is in flux.
Just a short drive away, in Sarasota an article was recently written about one homeless man - David Cross who has been on the streets so long that he is known as the “mayor.” For many years people going to and fro with their daily grind would see Cross sitting in Five Points Park, a greenway in the heart of this prosperous city.
Then the city decided to remove the park bench where he held daily court. Then the town’s wise fathers enacted a new panhandling ordinance making it illegal to beg for money in most areas around the city. And then, according to reports, “he was given a written infraction for sleeping outside.”
So, joining other homeless activists around the U.S., the 66-year-old Cross sued Sarasota, claiming the city is using the power of law and regulation to take his right to sleep and as his lawyers say “just exist.” By criminalizing homelessness, jurisdictions are making it punishable just to live without money or connections and that is just plain wrong, says Cross. And he is not alone in this view, the ACLU has taken several similar cases and there are also numerous social justice attorneys taking cases like his on a pro bono basis.
As Florida continues to grow and downtowns are revitalized, the homeless are increasingly viewed as conflicting with the ambiance of laid-back chic and stylized tropical living cachet sought by the influx of well-to-do retirees, tourists, working professionals and business owners. As once-blighted streets are renewed, many want the homeless gone and they are not above legislating that result. When the ongoing revitalization of FMB is complete it is likely that community will face similar issues and challenges in how they will treat the ever-present homeless population essentially living on Estero Boulevard in plain sight.
Meanwhile across America, cities continue to crackdown and enact wave after wave of new laws against panhandling, camping and other activities associated with homelessness. Authorities are mixed over how far social engineering can go, but most agree that such regulations do help preserve the renewed vitality, reduce crime, lower health problems and stop aberrant behaviors that trouble residents and disrupt the flow business.
 
The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, conducted a study in over 187 cities that found between 2011 and 2014 “bans against sleeping in cars increased up 119 percent, laws against citywide camping went up 60 percent, anti-loitering laws climbed 35 percent and anti-begging or panhandling laws increased 25 percent.
Some legal actions became very controversial like the initiative in Miami that caused a minister to be arrested for distributing food to the homeless. Lee County residents will remember back in 2003-2007 when residents of Fort Myers Beach were sharply divided over allowing local churches to feed the homeless. Some felt it would attract a hard-core cadre of “bums” that would be a blight on the island community and others felt it was their “Christian duty” to provide for the less fortunate. In the end, the program – God’s Table – was allowed to operate but only after residents made it clear they did not want any public sleeping at the Church. God’s Table operates to this day providing for the Island’s homeless.
While the Beach may have partially embraced those living on the streets, other communities have made it illegal to sit or lie in public and, in one city, a ban on using blankets outdoors was passed though the law was eventually reversed after a strong outcry.
Cross and others who advocate for the homeless argue that passing laws making it harder to live in the only place available to many – public streets, is cruel and is a misguided attempt to sweep the homeless under the rug rather than addressing the root causes and finding a solution to the issue. To them, it further illustrates the well-publicized growing gap between America’s rich and poor.
“It’s not illegal to be homeless,” Cross said.
Over a decade ago, Sarasota was named the “Meanest City in America” by homeless advocates for the plethora of ordinances aimed at the homeless. Just an hour away from Lee County, the picturesque beach community has undergone several hard political fights between those who want the homeless gone and those that want to provide for them. It is a city that is seen by many as a test location in the battle between street poverty and Florida’s urban renaissance.
The city’s balmy weather has drawn a large homeless population. On the streets, the contrast between panhandlers shaking cups and shoppers clutching bags from upscale boutiques is jarring.
City officials deny the allegations in Cross’s lawsuit and say that the city has moved to a progressive approach on homelessness in recent years. Officials have created teams to engage the homeless, adopted a comprehensive plan to deal with homelessness and are looking to create new housing.
“We still have work to do but are making gradual progress,” City Manager Tom Barwin wrote in an email.
A nationwide fight

Homeless men and women bed down for the night outdoors in the alcoves of the Sarasota County Jail. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)
Similar legal fights are playing out across the nation as the homeless challenge anti-panhandling ordinances, anti-camping laws and the seizure of their belongings in sweeps.
In Virginia, more than a dozen homeless alcoholics represented by the Legal Aid Justice Center sued the state’s prosecutors in March, claiming Virginia’s “habitual drunkard” law criminalizes addiction among those on the street and violates their constitutional rights.
The law allows prosecutors to ask the courts to designate someone a “habitual drunkard” if they have been shown to have a drinking problem. After the designation, the person can be jailed if they are caught with alcohol. Prosecutors say the law keeps drunks off the street. They have used the designation in more than 1,200 cases in recent years.
In Hawaii, the city of Honolulu was in the news again last week. Last fall, lawyers filed suit against the city on behalf of a group of homeless people, in response to what the mayor called a “war on homelessness.” According to officials with the mayor’s office, the suit was prompted by complaints from residents and tourists who said the number of panhandlers and visible homeless had reached “epidemic” proportions. In response the city passed laws banning sitting and lying on sidewalks, erecting “temporary shelters” and closed parks at night and dismantled one of the nation’s largest homeless encampments.
“The lawsuit accused the city of illegally trashing medicine, identification papers and food storage during the sweep, leaving homeless children hungry. A settlement was recently reached that forbids the city from seizing certain items,” reported the Post.
From the perspective of social justice activists there have been some successes with the legal actions. When the homeless challenged broad anti-panhandling laws in Springfield, Ill., Oklahoma City, and Sacramento County, Calif., on grounds it violates freedom of speech grounds, the localities abrogated portions of their anti-homeless ordinances and in a few instances overturned the rules outright.
In response to the increase in laws aimed against the homeless and the ongoing legal battles across the Nation, The Obama administration has taken steps many see as supporting the social activists.
Just last August, the Justice Department filed a brief in a Boise, Idaho, lawsuit challenging that city’s camping ordinance. The case failed to reach a holding on the merits and was dismissed over an issue of standing, but federal attorneys argued that it was unconstitutional for police to cite the homeless for sleeping outdoors when there is insufficient shelter space. Since no ruling was ever made that considered these contentions it remains to be seen if this approach will sway courts in a future case.
Again, last fall, according to the Post, “the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced that it would consider whether a municipality has implemented a strategy to prevent the criminalization of homelessness when awarding some grants.”
SARASOTA, Fla. — The homeless so skillfully weave themselves into our urban landscapes that we sometimes don’t even notice they are with us. On Fort Myers Beach, they are easier to see since there is only one major thoroughfare – Estero Boulevard – and everyone is seen when they are on it. Everyday a steady trickle of homeless people walk to God’s Table at Chapel by the Sea to get a meal, some clean clothes and later hang out on the Lee Tran bench to smoke and converse. They are a fixure and some of them have been here so long we’d feel something was missing if we didn’t see them.
 
Fort Myers Beach is not the only place in Florida with a resident homeless population. Warm weather and a relatively rich and generous demographic of retired folks who can afford their homes near the water, make Florida a Meca for those who live on the streets of our communities.
While there is a general acceptance of the homeless here, elsewhere the way towns and cities treat these “hidden” residents is in flux.
Just a short drive away, in Sarasota an article was recently written about one homeless man - David Cross who has been on the streets so long that he is known as the “mayor.” For many years people going to and fro with their daily grind would see Cross sitting in Five Points Park, a greenway in the heart of this prosperous city.
Then the city decided to remove the park bench where he held daily court. Then the town’s wise fathers enacted a new panhandling ordinance making it illegal to beg for money in most areas around the city. And then, according to reports, “he was given a written infraction for sleeping outside.”
So, joining other homeless activists around the U.S., the 66-year-old Cross sued Sarasota, claiming the city is using the power of law and regulation to take his right to sleep and as his lawyers say “just exist.” By criminalizing homelessness, jurisdictions are making it punishable just to live without money or connections and that is just plain wrong, says Cross. And he is not alone in this view, the ACLU has taken several similar cases and there are also numerous social justice attorneys taking cases like his on a pro bono basis.
As Florida continues to grow and downtowns are revitalized, the homeless are increasingly viewed as conflicting with the ambiance of laid-back chic and stylized tropical living cachet sought by the influx of well-to-do retirees, tourists, working professionals and business owners. As once-blighted streets are renewed, many want the homeless gone and they are not above legislating that result. When the ongoing revitalization of FMB is complete it is likely that community will face similar issues and challenges in how they will treat the ever-present homeless population essentially living on Estero Boulevard in plain sight.
Meanwhile across America, cities continue to crackdown and enact wave after wave of new laws against panhandling, camping and other activities associated with homelessness. Authorities are mixed over how far social engineering can go, but most agree that such regulations do help preserve the renewed vitality, reduce crime, lower health problems and stop aberrant behaviors that trouble residents and disrupt the flow business.
 
The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, conducted a study in over 187 cities that found between 2011 and 2014 “bans against sleeping in cars increased up 119 percent, laws against citywide camping went up 60 percent, anti-loitering laws climbed 35 percent and anti-begging or panhandling laws increased 25 percent.
Some legal actions became very controversial like the initiative in Miami that caused a minister to be arrested for distributing food to the homeless. Lee County residents will remember back in 2003-2007 when residents of Fort Myers Beach were sharply divided over allowing local churches to feed the homeless. Some felt it would attract a hard-core cadre of “bums” that would be a blight on the island community and others felt it was their “Christian duty” to provide for the less fortunate. In the end, the program – God’s Table – was allowed to operate but only after residents made it clear they did not want any public sleeping at the Church. God’s Table operates to this day providing for the Island’s homeless.
While the Beach may have partially embraced those living on the streets, other communities have made it illegal to sit or lie in public and, in one city, a ban on using blankets outdoors was passed though the law was eventually reversed after a strong outcry.
Cross and others who advocate for the homeless argue that passing laws making it harder to live in the only place available to many – public streets, is cruel and is a misguided attempt to sweep the homeless under the rug rather than addressing the root causes and finding a solution to the issue. To them, it further illustrates the well-publicized growing gap between America’s rich and poor.
“It’s not illegal to be homeless,” Cross said.
Over a decade ago, Sarasota was named the “Meanest City in America” by homeless advocates for the plethora of ordinances aimed at the homeless. Just an hour away from Lee County, the picturesque beach community has undergone several hard political fights between those who want the homeless gone and those that want to provide for them. It is a city that is seen by many as a test location in the battle between street poverty and Florida’s urban renaissance.
The city’s balmy weather has drawn a large homeless population. On the streets, the contrast between panhandlers shaking cups and shoppers clutching bags from upscale boutiques is jarring.
City officials deny the allegations in Cross’s lawsuit and say that the city has moved to a progressive approach on homelessness in recent years. Officials have created teams to engage the homeless, adopted a comprehensive plan to deal with homelessness and are looking to create new housing.
“We still have work to do but are making gradual progress,” City Manager Tom Barwin wrote in an email.
A nationwide fight

Homeless men and women bed down for the night outdoors in the alcoves of the Sarasota County Jail. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)
Similar legal fights are playing out across the nation as the homeless challenge anti-panhandling ordinances, anti-camping laws and the seizure of their belongings in sweeps.
In Virginia, more than a dozen homeless alcoholics represented by the Legal Aid Justice Center sued the state’s prosecutors in March, claiming Virginia’s “habitual drunkard” law criminalizes addiction among those on the street and violates their constitutional rights.
The law allows prosecutors to ask the courts to designate someone a “habitual drunkard” if they have been shown to have a drinking problem. After the designation, the person can be jailed if they are caught with alcohol. Prosecutors say the law keeps drunks off the street. They have used the designation in more than 1,200 cases in recent years.
In Hawaii, the city of Honolulu was in the news again last week. Last fall, lawyers filed suit against the city on behalf of a group of homeless people, in response to what the mayor called a “war on homelessness.” According to officials with the mayor’s office, the suit was prompted by complaints from residents and tourists who said the number of panhandlers and visible homeless had reached “epidemic” proportions. In response the city passed laws banning sitting and lying on sidewalks, erecting “temporary shelters” and closed parks at night and dismantled one of the nation’s largest homeless encampments.
“The lawsuit accused the city of illegally trashing medicine, identification papers and food storage during the sweep, leaving homeless children hungry. A settlement was recently reached that forbids the city from seizing certain items,” reported the Post.
From the perspective of social justice activists there have been some successes with the legal actions. When the homeless challenged broad anti-panhandling laws in Springfield, Ill., Oklahoma City, and Sacramento County, Calif., on grounds it violates freedom of speech grounds, the localities abrogated portions of their anti-homeless ordinances and in a few instances overturned the rules outright.
In response to the increase in laws aimed against the homeless and the ongoing legal battles across the Nation, The Obama administration has taken steps many see as supporting the social activists.
Just last August, the Justice Department filed a brief in a Boise, Idaho, lawsuit challenging that city’s camping ordinance. The case failed to reach a holding on the merits and was dismissed over an issue of standing, but federal attorneys argued that it was unconstitutional for police to cite the homeless for sleeping outdoors when there is insufficient shelter space. Since no ruling was ever made that considered these contentions it remains to be seen if this approach will sway courts in a future case.
Again, last fall, according to the Post, “the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced that it would consider whether a municipality has implemented a strategy to prevent the criminalization of homelessness when awarding some grants.”
Soto has taken a pro-active approach to address what he says is a “bad problem for the city’s image. He also says there are those who think helping more will eradicate homelessness but based on what he says is “firsthand knowledge” – watching the street people every day –there is a dark side to their existence. To heighten awareness of the problems he has created a series of signs. One of them reads: “DON’T GIVE IN TO PANHANDLING...93% OF THE MONEY YOU GIVE GOES TO DRUGS & ALCOHOL.”
Some businesses are happy to display the signs, and Soto told the Post that he is “planning to pay people to hand out anti-panhandling fliers in hot spots for homelessness and collect money to give to established programs that help the homeless.”
“We are one of the most enabling towns in Florida,” Soto said.
On the other side of the issue, is Cross who says the City needs to do more to help those caught in a vicious cycle of poverty and anguish. He said he “hopes his lawsuit makes Sarasota officials take action.”
He said he’d like to see the city build a downtown emergency shelter. This was recommended by a consultant the city had hired in 2013. That project got bogged down in politics particularly over where the shelter would be built. One of the most difficult problems to address whenever building a new shelter is mentioned is that while most will superficially say they support the idea, most politicians not want it in the districts where their constituents live.
“It’s getting the city to do something,” Cross said of the lawsuit.
Meanwhile on Fort Myers Beach in Lee County, God’s Table continues to provide a wide array of services to the homeless and the community seems to be in stark contrast to Sarasota.
Read 1949 times

Add comment


Security code
Refresh

welocomepng8

250x250

digital version