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Leon County Commission taking no action on homeless ordinance

Leon County Courthouse
Tom Flanigan

The Leon County Commission is considering an ordinance that addresses issues relating to homelessness. It would increase fines for panhandling, sleeping in public areas and public urination and defecation after complaints from residents and businesses located near a shelter on Mahan drive.

Under the proposal citations will only be handed out after multiple infractions or if the person refuses services. During a recent county commission meeting to hear the plan, Commissioner Brian Welch said he believes the ordinance is reasonable, and good for public safety.

“Effectively the question is, in my opinion, is what is the standard for an acceptable quality of life that we as the policymakers and the general public are willing to accept? And personally, I’m not willing to accept someone living on the sidewalk because that is a danger to that individual,” said Welch.

When asked if issuing citations to violators would improve the situation, Welch said that the fines associated with the ordinance are only enforceable if Leon County has the capacity to service its homeless population, or if an individual refuses services.

“You can offer services and they’re important,” said Karen Woodall, Executive Director of the Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy. “But if it’s not putting a roof over somebody, it is not addressing the issue.”

Woodall wants to see the county invest more in transitional housing and believes while the ordinance may not criminalize homelessness, the people most affected by it are those with nowhere to live.

“You can’t criminalize urinating in public when people don’t have public restrooms. There are solutions, put up porta-potties, build some public restrooms, that would benefit everybody.”

The commission is planning to take the ordinance up again later in the year.

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Brett Rutherford is a reporter and news researcher at WFSU Pubic Media. From Riverview, Florida, he has earned both a bachelor’s and master’s degree from Florida State University. During his time at Florida State, he was a reporter within the sports department at WVFS, the student-run on-campus radio station. In 2020, he served as Sports Director during his senior year and hosted the weekly talk show Tomahawk Talk.

Email Brett: brutherford2@fsu.edu