Fort Lauderdale Pushing for "Homeless Hate Laws," Advocacy Groups Say

Fort Lauderdale is set to pass ordinances that would make an already difficult life for the city's homeless even more so.

During a public workshop in January, it was announced that the city planned to pass ordinances that would effectively ban groups from sharing food with the homeless and make it illegal for the homeless to store their personal belongings on public property.

This means that police would have the authority to confiscate a homeless person's possessions after a 24-hour notice and keep them in storage until the person either pays a fee or can prove that he has no means to pay that fee.

On Tuesday night, these ordinances will receive second readings at the Fort Lauderdale City Commission meeting. Homeless advocacy groups plan on marching before the meeting, into City Hall, to give voice to what they're calling "homeless hate laws."

See also: A Florida City Made It Illegal for Homeless People to Cover Themselves With Blankets

As they did for the first readings of the ordinances of April 15, members from groups like Food Not Bombs and Broward Homeless Campaign will get together at Stranahan Park, a park known to be a place where homeless people gather, before the commissioners meet.

"We want to meet an hour before the meeting and then march over to City Hall and remind folks about these ordinances and hand out fliers," Haylee Becker of Food Not Bombs tells New Times. "We're there to have presence on Broward Boulevard, letting the homeless know we're speaking out for them."

Aside from wanting to exclude the homeless from Stranahan Park, the ordinance calls for the confiscation of public property.

The ordinance would have police give a homeless person 24 hours' notice before they can then lawfully take away any personal possession stored on public property. Anyone wanting to retrieve his stuff must pay the city a storage fee. The fee would be waived if the homeless person can prove he can't afford it.

"It's just bureaucratic maneuvering by the city," Becker says of the fee being waived if it's proven a homeless person can't pay it. "It really comes down to harassment."

If the confiscated items are not retrieved in 30 days, the city can then dispose of them, according to the ordinance.

"These proposed ordinances run counter to Fort Lauderdale's plan to end homelessness," National Coalition for the Homeless Director of Community Organizing Michael Stopps said through a release. "Criminalizing homelessness has been tried before in your city and it hasn't accomplished anything other than jailing the homeless and costing taxpayers."

A big question in all this would be: What exactly makes for "possessions"?

One could argue it's more than just a blanket or books. It could be a pet or shoes. But the ordinance, the advocacy groups say, seems to be part of a national agenda to push homeless people out of sight, out of mind.

According to the Legislature, the reasoning behind the ordinance is the city of Fort Lauderdale's "interest in aesthetics."

Earlier this year, Pensacola had a similar ordinance in place for the sake of aesthetics in which it made it illegal for homeless people to cover themselves with blankets.

That ordinance was eventually repealed.

But could this personal property ordinance lead the way to that kind of law in Fort Lauderdale? The Pensacola ordinance seems extreme, but it started with the seedlings of "aesthetics."

Tuesday's rally is all about speaking up against this kind of extreme treatment of the city's homeless.

"We don't want to just speak at the meeting," Becker says. "We want to be a visible presence."

The "Homeless Hate Law" rally will start at Stranahan Park, located at 10 E. Broward Blvd. in Fort Lauderdale, at 5 p.m. The group then plans to march toward City Hall's City Commission Chambers, located at 100 N. Andrews Ave., for the meeting, which begins at 6 p.m.

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Chris Joseph
Contact: Chris Joseph