Anti-Unhomed Legislation or Public Good?

by Michael Abdoney - 02/01/2024 -Tampa

Florida Senate Bill 1530 is a piece of legislation containing language that declares it illegal for the unpermitted to sleep or camp on public property, as many unhomed individuals and families are forced to do. Additionally, this proposal would burden cities and counties with establishing designated camps for unhomed individuals to legally stay overnight but says nothing about funding such endeavors.

The specific language of the bill refers to "public sleeping" and "public camping." The former entails staying overnight within a public place without a tent or temporary shelter while the latter entails sleeping outdoors with a tent, anything resembling bedding, or personal belongings. If approved, the bill would become active in October and allow permit residents and/or businesses to sue cities/counties that fail to disperse encampments of the unhomed from public property.

Tammi Casagni, leader of Tampa nonprofit "Dawning Family Services," fears that the bill would create more issues than solutions in a state that already has horrible issues with the unhomed. She fears that it does nothing to handle the issue of being without a home and merely further criminalizes the circumstances. Casagni's organization only deals with families inconvenienced without having a home and notes that this demographic's numbers are increasing.

On the Rise of The Unhomed

In 2023, Hillsborough County saw a 35% increase in unhomed people than figures from 2022.

Casagni believes that the legislation, if approved, would cause unhomed families to stay out of public even more, even to the point of refusing to interact with helpful nonprofits.

The Language of the Bill

While the bill would criminalize sleeping and camping outside in public, defenders of the legislation point to its enactment of recognized camps. The bill goes on to stipulate which sorts of properties could be designated as camps, rather than giving the individual counties and cities the final say. Specifically, valid properties cannot be located within areas that would negatively influence property values, safety, and security of other residential and commercial properties. Any potential campsite would be required to undergo inspection by the Florida Department of Children and Families. Lastly, any approved facility will only be valid for "no longer than one year" at a time.

Designated sites must also meet minimum standards and provide resources for mental health and substance abuse from the region's local Continuum of Care. Continuum of Care is a federally-funded organization that assists the unhomed.

Despite aspirations of clearing unlawful encampments and redirecting the problem to dedicated camps, and in the face of several potential civil lawsuits, an overview of the bill fails to find any language that would help fund the endeavors of cities and counties to enact these changes.

A City Response

Adam Smith, a spokesperson for the City of Tampa, does not believe SB 1530 would greatly change city operations. He went on to remark via e-mail about how encampments are cleared whenever their presence is made known and the unfortunate people are directed to any available services, like Tampa Hope. Tampa Hope, the city's emergency homeless shelter has been operating since 2021.

The last bit of language worth remarking on would be exceptions during states of emergency. Said states of emergency are up to the declarations of the governor or local government. Furthermore, exceptions will be made for cities and counties that are deemed “fiscally restrained,” but no language exists that indicates what official body determines whether or not an area meets those qualifications.

SB 1530 was filed on January 4th, 2024, and at the time of reporting, passed the Fiscal Policy committee with 12 yeas against 5 nays.