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Leon County Commission votes to draft ordinances on issues related to homelessness

The policy options dealt with issues of camping, solicitation, and indecent exposure.
The policy options dealt with issues of camping, solicitation, and indecent exposure.
Published: Dec. 14, 2021 at 8:53 PM EST
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - During Tuesday’s County Commission meeting, Commissioners discussed policy options of public health and safety related to homelessness.

The policy options dealt with issues of camping, solicitation, and indecent exposure.

In a 4-3 vote, County Commissioners voted for Options 1, 2, and 3.

Option 1 repealed a County ordinance that was no longer in compliance with federal law; all Commissioners agreed on that issue.

Options 2 directed County staff to create draft ordinances about camping and sleeping in public areas, solicitation, and urinating or defecating in public areas.

Option 3 allocated $490,817 in funding from the County’s allocation of Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery Funds under the American Rescue Plan Act to the Leon County Sheriff’s Office budget for two additional Sheriff’s deputies to serve as the Homeless Outreach Street Team.

Option 5 changed days before the meeting; it included the language in Option 3, but deferred action on any ordinances.

The Sheriff’s Office expressed concerns about the impact of ordinances increasing the jail population.

In the memo, County Administrator Vince Long told Commissioners the Sheriff “is confident that the Sheriff’s Office will be able to adequately address issues related to homelessness in the community with the Board’s support of funding for the two HOST deputies, including connecting homeless individuals and families with affordable housing and social services in partnership with the BBCoC street outreach teams.”

The memo says if the Commission voted to hold off on the development of a draft ordinance, the Sheriff would provide a report to the Commission six months after the proposed HOST deputies on their effectiveness.

Commissioner Kristin Dozier led off the discussion by making a motion for Option 1 and 5. Those included funding the HOST deputies, repealing the inconsistent law, and deferring the creation of a draft ordinance.

Commissioner Dozier pointed to the possible $15 fine a person could face if violating an ordinance.

“I don’t think that’s really solving an issue,” Dozier said.

She also pointed to a lack of resources.

“We can do a bed count; we have different populations. But, we do have a waiting list,” Dozier said. “We really need to lean in, from my perspective, into that area of housing options.”

Commissioner Jimbo Jackson brought the issue of the unhoused population up at the last meeting.

“They are inches, or feet from the roadway, where there are herds of college students,” Jackson said.

He also pointed to seventeen pedestrian/vehicle accidents and six deaths in his district.

“I agree wholeheartedly that we should do something,” Jackson said. “I also know that it’s not against the law to be homeless. We can’t arrest homeless folks because they haven’t chosen our option of where to sleep. But we also owe our public a level of safety.”

Jackson spoke to the situation on West Pensacola Street, saying combining pedestrians who aren’t obeying traffic or right-of-way laws when crossing the street and young college students rushing home is a perfect storm.

Despite his concerns, Jackson was in favor of Option 5, giving the Sheriff’s Office deputies funding, and waiting for six months for data on the issue.

Vice Chair and County Commissioner Nick Maddox was also in favor of that option.

“If it doesn’t work out, this summer, I’m all for Options 1, 2, and 3,” he said.

Other Commissioners wanted to move forward with the creation of draft ordinances.

Commissioner Brian Welch said he has concerns with the unhoused population living on sidewalks and public property. He pushed for the creation of draft ordinances.

“My concern is when we go to folks and we say we want to give you services, we want to give you housing, and they don’t want that. Because they’ve got mental illness, or substance abuse issues, or they’re concerned about safety. If we allow people to live on our sidewalks, it creates a substantial public safety issue not just for the public but for these individuals,” Welch said. “We are doing a substantial disservice to people in our community if we allow them to sleep outside or in unsheltered situations. That is not healthy.”

Welch said the goal would not be to arrest homeless people, but rather keep them safe.

“We had an individual in my district who was sleeping inches from the road for six weeks. This is very dangerous. We have a duty to compel these folks to get shelter and food and clothing and the services they need to have to have a quality of life,” Welch said.

Commissioner Carolyn Cummings agreed with Welch.

“I’m just not in favor of knowing we have an issue and not doing anything about it,” Cummings said. “In repealing the inconsistent portion, I believe staff is totally capable of drafting an ordinance that is totally consistent with federal case law.”

Cummings said she’s aware that some of the unhoused population prefers to live outside; she said a person can have the right remain unsheltered, but they cannot infringe on others’ rights while doing so.

Commissioner Bill Proctor also agreed with Cummings and Welch.

He made a substitute motion for Options 1, 2, and 3.

Proctor’s motion passed with Welch, Cummings, and Minor in favor, and Jackson, Dozier, and Maddox in dissent.

The discussion on the issue lasted over an hour.

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