Arresting homeless people for sleeping outside costs taxpayers

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ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. —

Taxpayers spend thousands of dollars to lock up the homeless for sleeping outside, and a day or two later, those same people are back out sleeping on the streets.

Many nights, local homeless shelters fill up very quickly. Ronald Hines, a homeless man living in Orlando, said his crime of sleeping in the wrong place sent him on a downward spiral.

"I got arrested for sleeping on the streets," he said. "I went to jail, they gave me a court cost. A court cost I could not pay because I wasn't working."

Hines was arrested again a short time later for the unpaid fine.

Brad Sefter, an outreach specialist for the Orlando-based Healthcare Center for the Homeless, started a database to track homeless arrests.

"It's like a hole they can't stop digging," he said. "There are 465 on here now, and I just started doing this like six months ago."

WFTV found out Orlando police and the Orange County Jail don't track the number of arrests for sleeping outside, so there's no way to tell how much it's costing taxpayers.

"It's easy to see the problem when you're at the jail and you see the number of people who are in there solely because of the fact that they don't have house," said public defender Bob Wesley.

"Anytime you have a court case, you're going to have judge with a graduate degree, two lawyers there, bailiffs in the courtroom, court reporters -- you've got to have a court, all to solve the problem," he said.

A Volusia County judge was able to dig through records there and found homeless arrests are costing that county millions.

Andrae Bailey is in charge of the agency tasked with ending homelessness.

He'd like to see the money spent locking people up for sleeping on the street used to provide more housing.

"There's only so many days you can stay up when you don't have a home of your own," Bailey said.

Hines managed to break his cycle of homelessness. It started with having a place to sleep at the Coalition for the Homeless. He's now a bell ringer for the Salvation Army.