Being Nowhere
Circus Tradition
Class Politics
Enormous Loss
Haditha Tragedy
Homeless Being
Illegal Camping Ordinance
Journalism Priviledge
Keep Us Safe
Leadership and the People

Lesser Evils
Lynching Iraq
News for Working People
Nice Cops
Palestinian Democracy
Poison Fish
Political Communication
Selective Memory
Vestigial Entrances

Illegal Camping Ordinance

No doubt the Sarasota City Commission is frustrated with the court's lack of enthusiasm for their "camping" ordinances. They face this rejection because the ordinances fail to distinguish between people who are powerless to avoid violating the law and those who simply enjoy squatting.

Consider the following situation reduced to bare bones facts: A very poor person who depends on daily work but gets none on any given day will not have $8. to pay for the night's lodging at the Salvation Army if he or she has used up all of their free night allotment. At some point between nightfall and daylight this person is very likely to fall asleep; it is not something they can avoid.

Punishing people for conduct they can not avoid is called punishing for "conditions" and is avoided when our system is being self conscious. Sarasota ordinances are vague because they do not tell enforcement personnel how to distinguish people who are sleeping in a prohibited place because they must sleep and have no where else to go, and those who are sleeping in a prohibited place for the fun of it. The ordinance also does not distinguish between those who earned no money that day [the example above] and those who did but squandered it on water table biscuits.

And there are other frustrations. A homeless man who receives disability benefits for mental illness and has been waiting for months for an opening at McGowan Towers, does odd jobs around the neighborhood. During a rest from these labors he sits on a park bench and nods off. A uniformed officer wakes him up; no sleeping here, says the officer. Superior officers suggested that this intervention was likely not within policy, but the officer might have been responding to a complaint. He did not say how a citizen complaint can turn innocent conduct into prohibited conduct. Now that's frustrating.

Looking to the future, the first step for the Commission is to do an assessment of the cost of enforcing the ordinances over the last couple of years -- including police, administration, court costs and incarceration. Let this annualized number be considered the budget for next year. Call a meeting and ask: what alternatives to criminalization can be accomplished with this amount of money?













©Al Katz • Prof. of law SUNY, Buffalo, 1969-1989 (ret.)