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.
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
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.
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
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?