Like all cities around the country, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, has a population of homeless people. Unfortunately though, the city is poised to pass a new regulation that would make it illegal for homeless people, or anyone else, to store personal things on public property.
For a person who has a residence in which to put his or her possessions, the effect of the new law will be negligible. However, homeless people usually do not have secure spaces that could be used to store the small collection of things they own. If the new law is passed, police will have the authority to confiscate any personal belongings after giving the offender 24 hours notice, provided the property has been stored in public for more than a day.
The notice period is better than nothing, because it may offer an individual the chance to stash his or her items temporarily inside a church or other building that is characteristically more welcoming than others in terms of accommodating homeless people. However, it still doesn’t give a person a long-term solution. Any possessions that have been confiscated from homeless people by members of law enforcement will also be subject to getting after discarded after 30 days.
Last week, the area’s City Commission unanimously gave preliminary approval for the legislation, despite the fact many local residents testified against it. According to the language of the proposed law, an “interest in aesthetics” is helping fuel the desire to pass it.
Besides making it illegal to use public property to store personal items, the potential ruling has an even more far-reaching effect. Homeless people who are found guilty of defecating and urinating in public may be given a $500 fine or spend up to two months in jail. Those same punishments could apply even if a person is found trying to dispose of such bodily waste, but doing so improperly.
According to the Sun Sentinel, the City Commission was partially motivated to move forward with this law because downtown businesses complained homeless people were scaring away customers and making visitors feel uncomfortable. Although it is important to try and create a pleasant atmosphere for people who are stimulating the economy, that shouldn’t be done in a way that demeans homeless people by trying to take away what few possessions they own.
It would be much more practical for everyone involved to work together and figure out a suitable solution, especially since it is not feasible to expect homeless people to suddenly have places to store possessions. Perhaps progress could be made if people of influence spend more time creating safe and specialized environments for homeless people, instead of focusing so sharply on how to punish them.