If homeless people in Tampa want to avoid jail, they’d better find a place to store their things and a bed to sleep in.
That’s because last week, the Tampa City Council passed a new ordinance, Item #60, allowing police officers to arrest someone they see sleeping in public or “storing personal property in public.” The vote was 4–3.
Advocates are outraged over this new law criminalizing homelessness. Holding signs reading “Sleeping Is Not A Crime” and “Homelessness Is Not A Choice,” many demonstrated outside the Council and testified against the measure, to little avail. A number of the protesters were elementary school children who handed out flyers and asked those passing by, “Where are they supposed to go?”
Homelessness is a major, pervasive issue in Tampa. A 2012 study found that, among mid-sized cities, Tampa and the surrounding area had the highest number of homeless individuals at 7,419.
Exacerbating the problem is the lack of affordable homeless shelters, much less affordable permanent housing. “Most shelters in the Tampa Bay area charge $10 to $42 per night for a single person. They aren’t free,” Tasha Rennels, a Ph.D. student at University of South Florida, told Bay News 9. Though the City Council acknowledged that shelters in the city are full almost every night, they didn’t include any additional funding for new shelters or housing to go along with Item #60.
Tampa isn’t the only city taking on new anti-homeless measures. Last week, a Miami City Commissioner began an effort to throw homeless people in jail who were caught engaging in life-sustaining activities in public, such as eating and sleeping.