Fort Lauderdale city leaders are meeting Wednesday to look over the possibility of implementing new homeless laws that will put an end to panhandling, sleeping in public places, and even remove park benches in some areas.
Specifically, the focus will be on camping laws and looking to prevent the homeless from sleeping, eating, and encamping themselves in a public area with their belongings.
Much like a similar law passed months ago, the homeless encampment law will be about aesthetics. As the ordinance puts it, "the City of Fort Lauderdale has a substantial interest in the revitalization, preservation of property values and the prevention of the deterioration in its downtown."
According to documents, the city is using a $440,000 federal grant to help give housing to homeless deemed "at risk" of dying on the street. Problem is, there aren't enough apartments to go around. According to the Broward County Homeless Initiative Partnership, there are at least 500 homeless people living in Broward.
Still, the new ordinance being discussed looks to try and dissuade homeless people from sticking around in one place too long, and making it increasingly difficult for them to solicit for handouts.
The ordinance looks to make soliciting illegal in most parts of Broward -- particularly in the more heavily trafficked areas -- with each offense punishable by up to 60 days in jail or a $500 fine.
These laws will be enforced based on their levels of traffic.
Soliciting might be allowed between NW 7th Ave. east to U.S. 1, but not on Sunrise Blvd.
Other parts would be permissible as long as traffic is flowing smoothly.
Then there's he anti-camping laws, which would prohibit camping of any kind in the downtown area from Sunrise Blvd. to SW 7th St. between SW 7th Ave. and Federal Highway.
In order to somewhat soften the blow, police officers will be required to make sure the homeless person being cited for camping doesn't need medical attention first. This includes mental health treatment. If an officer determines that the person is of sound mind, and not in any danger, they will then issue a citation.
Earlier this year, commissioners passed an ordinance that allows police the authority to confiscate a homeless person's possessions after a 24-hour notice and keep the possessions in storage until the person either pays a fee or can prove that they have no means to pay that fee.
If the confiscated items are not retrieved in 30 days, the city can then dispose of them, according to the ordinance.
The ordinance even had tricky language that would have allowed officers to disregard the 24-hour notice rule if the personal property caused public harm or if it merely smelled bad.
Nathan Pim, an activist with the Fort Lauderdale homeless advocates Food Not Bombs told New Times that the confiscation ordinance was merely a way of allowing police to do what they've always done anyway.
"Police officers do this stuff all the time," Pim said. "They take the belongings of homeless people constantly -- and this is just legal covering-up after the fact."
The latest anti-encampment ordinance includes a prohibition on things like tents, huts, sleeping bags, bedrolls or any other form of cover to protect a homeless person from the elements. The law would extend to streets, alleys, sidewalks, bike lanes, and parks.
The city commission is scheduled to take up the ordinance at 6:00 p.m. at City Hall in Fort Lauderdale.
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