anti-homeless ordinances opposed by coalition: Jacksonville, FL

Tom Boland (
Tue, 17 Feb 1998 23:27:24 -0800 (PST)



By Karen Rivedal, Jacksonville Times-Union staff writer - Feb 14, 1998

Jacksonville's largest group dedicated to helping the homeless struck a
symbolic one-two punch this week against efforts to outlaw vagrant

The group, Emergency Services and Homeless Coalition of Jacksonville, voted
unanimously to oppose proposed ordinances affecting homeless people in
Jacksonville and Jacksonville Beach.

The coalition vote has no legal power, but members hope it will influence
municipal decisionmakers.

''Having an ordinance thatattempts to regulate behaviors associated
primarily with the homeless is something we don't want to support,''
coalition member David Hoak said.

The laws, if approved, would prohibit sleeping or camping in public areas
or private places without
permission. After one warning, violators could be charged with a
misdemeanor and jailed.

Both measures also would require police to make violators aware of
available public shelters before making an arrest.

But many homeless advocates aren't convinced enough space exists. They say
more study is needed before the city starts to jail people, including
Jacksonville's roughly 2,300 homeless.

''You really can't have an ordinance in place until you can provide a
sufficient level of service to the homeless,'' Hoak said. ''We feel there's
a need for a closer examination of the facts.''

The coalition now is counting the available beds in emergency public
shelters. The biggest, the city's $1.6 million I.M. Sulzbacher Center for
the Homeless, can house 350 to 380 people per night and now is full an
average of four out of seven days a week, executive director Linda Lanier

Another four privately run shelters can offer up to about 500 additional
emergency beds, directors said. Some of those places, however, include time
limits on stays, only take men, or encourage participation in religious

Both of the proposed ordinances likely are at least a month away from a
vote. In Jacksonville Beach, Police Chief Bruce Thomason said a vote
scheduled for Monday would be postponed until the city attorney has a
chance to study the measure further. Thomason had no comment on the vote.

In Jacksonville, the bill's sponsor, Councilman Howard Dale, said it was
being reworked now to address concerns of homeless advocates. He was hoping
to get the results of a new homeless census scheduled for later this month
before finishing the bill.

''We need to study the numbers and respond appropriately,'' Dale said. ''We
don't want to waste money for limited benefit. That's one of the reasons we
need the census and inventory of shelter space.''

The coalition is a group of individuals, social service agencies and
representatives from government agencies who deal with homelessness issues.
Through the United Way, the group also is responsible for distributing
federal emergency management assistance funds in Jacksonville.


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