Florida Bill Sparks Debate Over Treatment of Houseless Individuals

by Shealeigh

Florida is considering a bill that would ban houseless people from sleeping in public places and instead require them to stay in designated encampments, Alexandra Martinez of Prism reported on February 24, 2024. The bill has received support from Governor Ron DeSantis and is moving through the legislative process. Critics argue that the bill is discriminatory and dehumanizing, targeting marginalized groups and effectively segregating them from urban areas. They suggest that a better approach would be to prioritize providing housing for houseless individuals to address their most basic needs.

David Peery, a formerly houseless activist and the founder of Miami Coalition to Advance Racial Equity, and other advocates for the houseless have been calling for a housing-first approach that would prioritize “providing housing for people so that their most basic needs can be addressed,” Martinez wrote. Perry and other advocates have criticized conservative think tanks, such as the Cicero Institute, for promoting legislation that further criminalizes houselessness and effectively hides the issue from public view.

“These efforts have been spearheaded by very conservative think tanks, very conservative people that simply want to relegate the poor into the areas where they cannot see them,” Peery said. “They certainly want to use and exploit the poor for their labor in order to produce their wealth that they can use, but they don’t want to see them.”
Legal precedents, such as the Martin v. Boise case, have recognized the rights of houseless individuals to sleep on public property when no other options are available.

However, upcoming Supreme Court decisions could change this, potentially impacting the legality of Florida’s proposed measures and similar laws nationwide. Despite criticism and legal complexities, the bill continues to advance.

Governor DeSantis expressed support but opposed the creation of encampments in areas that might disrupt public activities. Perry said, “This has been a longstanding goal of certain really fascist repressive people throughout the years.” Perry maintains that the bill is “racist, elitist, and repressive,” and further marginalizes already marginalized communities. This approach reflects broader societal attitudes, with some likening it to “NIMBY”-ism (not in my backyard) where individuals resist having houseless populations near their communities due to various concerns, including living conditions and prejudice.

Corporate outlets, such as the Washington Post and USA Today, have covered this bill and some of its implications. By contrast, Prism’s article dissected recent precedents for the bill and its discriminatory origins. The independent news outlet Truthout republished the Prism report.

Source: Alexandra Martinez, “New Florida Bill Could Force Unhoused People Into Encampments,” Prism, February 22, 2024.

Student Researcher: Shonna Mae Porcadilla (City College of San Francisco) 

Faculty Evaluator: Jennifer Levinson (City College of San Francisco)