shelter-or-jail ordinance reproposed in Jacksonville, Florida FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Sun, 1 Feb 1998 06:29:37 -0800 (PST)


FWD Jan 19, 1998 [Jacksonville, Florida]

SHELTER-OR-JAIL ORDINANCE TARGETS HOMELESS AGAIN


By Derek L. Kinner
Times-Union staff writer

Paul Hart has been living in Jacksonville for two weeks, looking for a job
and sleeping wherever he can, mainly on the streets.

But a proposed city ordinance that could lead to the arrest of homeless
people who refuse to stay in shelters has the 42-year-old Philadelphia
native thinking of returning home.

''Most of the places [shelters], they don't really care about a person,''
Hart said, sitting in downtown's Hemming Plaza last week. ''I'm trying to
get an apartment. But right now, I like it better on the streets than at
the shelters.''

The ordinance is a revision of one the City Council passed last year. A
judge threw out the original, saying it was too vague, so the bill has been
rewritten.

''There's no intent to criminalize homelessness,'' said City Councilman
Howard Dale. ''It will affect those people who are sleeping, lodging or
camping in public parks and streets without permission to do so.''

The bill prohibits sleeping, constructing any kind of shelter or staying in
a vehicle on any public property such as parks, streets and buildings. It
also prohibits those activities on private property without the owner's
permission.

Violators get one warning from police, but if they are found in the same
area doing the same thing within 36 hours of the warning, they are taken to
jail on a misdemeanor charge, Dale said.

Dale said the bill will move slowly through committees before reaching the
full council, in at least a month, so that the public can have plenty of
input.

Dale already has held one workshop for homeless advocates and the police,
and plans a second one in which he hopes to hear from downtown merchants
and property owners near Hemming Plaza, some of whom have complained about
homeless people causing problems.

The city contracts with Giddens Security Corp. to provide 24-hour security
in Hemming Plaza. Guards make sure no one sleeps on park benches or begs
for money.

''You try to deter that kind of stuff,'' said Larry Napier, a security
guard on duty at the park. ''We just make sure that the taxpayer does not
get interfered with.''

Still, city officials want more regulation. Dale said police officers are
required only to tell people the location of the nearest shelter, not to
give them a ride, though he hopes they would if they had the time.

Dale said the ordinance was developed in conjunction with building the I.M.
Sulzbacher Center for the Homeless.

''In some ways, the center owes its being to this bill,'' said Linda
Lanier, the center's executive director. ''If the homeless shelter was
built, then there would be a reasonable place to direct people to go.''

But Lanier said there are times when the shelter is full, especially when
it's cold.

When the temperature drops below 35 degrees, the center implements its
''cold weather protocol,'' in which excess people are sent to sleep in
church basements, Lanier said.

But when the temperature rises above 35, but stays cold, the shelter often
runs into space problems.

END FORWARD

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