Florida homeless and legal advocates have joined forces toward introducing a Homeless Bill of Rights in the Florida legislature in 2017.
The bill, like those which already have been passed in three states – Rhode Island, Connecticut and Illinois – is seen as providing vital legal protection by homeless advocates, and more so by homeless persons who are perennially harassed and jailed for engaging in life sustaining activities like sleeping and panhandling. A growing body of evidence, including a major report in 2014 from the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, has detailed that the ‘criminalization of homelessness’ by local government has dramatically increased over the past two decades, especially in the wake of an increase in homelessness since the economic crash of 2007-2008.
“All persons have the same rights and therefore we shouldn’t discriminate against those who don’t have homes,” said Florida ACLU Staff Attorney Adam Tebrugge, who was tasked with creating a working draft of the bill. Tebrugge is one of a core group of organizers and attorneys brought together by October 22nd Alliance’s Jeff Weinberger to promote the effort.
Also in the group are George Bolden, a long-time advocate who previously experienced homelessness, and has served on Pinellas County Coalition for the Homeless and led Celebrate Outreach, a faith-based nonprofit working to end homelessness; Rev. Bruce Wright, who heads Refuge Ministries, the local chapter of Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign, and also hosts the weekly Revolutionary Road Radio Show; Patricia Hart, advocate and writer with Homeless Helping Homeless of Tampa, which just won an important federal lawsuit to overturn a camping ban in that city; .and Marc-Tizoc Gonzalez, law professor at Miami’s St. Thomas University School of Law, whose background includes a stint at Oakland, California’s Homeless Action Center and publication of a significant body of scholarly analysis of case law and social dynamics related to the criminalization of homelessness.
In Fort Lauderdale, since our last post in April, the city hasn’t skipped a beat in terms of making the lives of homeless folk as miserable as they can. Harassment based on a 2014 ordinance banning outdoor property storage – as if unhoused folk had another option – and a trespassing ban outside of the ‘public’ library’s main downtown branch, which has enabled some sadistic FLPD cops to scatter folks trying to sleep under the building’s overhangs on rainy nights, are just two cases in point.
A longer post will be devoted soon to the city’s mishandling and abuse of clients of the Housing First program which was implemented in 2014 with funds from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. The city was discovered in a HUD audit last August to have been dramatically overcharging on rents for the program, thereby diminishing the approximately $450,000 annual appropriation and helping fewer clients than it could have. Housing First is a humane and cost-effective solution to chronic homelessness, based on the now well-documented idea that providing a roof and services for these most at-risk individuals is far less costly to taxpayers than allowing them to remain on the street. The city has been forced to pay back over $100,000 to HUD because of its mismanagement of the program.