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Local counties monitoring bill that could force them to spend millions on homeless camps

ORLANDO, Fla. — A plan some advocates say will only make homelessness worse looks likely to pass in the state legislature and it is set to have a major impact on how local counties approach homelessness.

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Senate Bill 1530 and it’s companion House Bill 1365 crack down on people camping and sleeping in public places.

Orange, Osceola, and Seminole counties all said they are closely monitoring the legislation.

It could lead several counties to spend millions on creating sanctioned homeless camps.

While public camping is already illegal in most Florida counties, the bill bans counties from “authorizing or permitting” illegal camping.

“Many jurisdictions are likely to interpret that as meaning that they will need to arrest people who are who are unwilling or unable to move off of public property,” said Martha Are, the CEO of Central Florida’s Homeless Services Network.

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Are explains that if the bill passes, counties will need to figure out their own approach to enforcement.

The bill says residents and businesses can sue counties that violate the law by allowing people to sleep on public property.

“The stick in the legislation is that the jurisdiction can get sued,” said Are, “That can be a big stick, to kind of push jurisdictions into either creating enough shelter capacity to meet the need, or they could create these encampments.”

The bill outlines how local governments could create specific areas with security and social services for those living on the streets. Those designated camping areas must meet certain sanitation and safety requirements. Behavioral services must also be provided.

The house bill’s sponsor Representative Sam Garrison clarified that those camps aren’t mandatory, but if counties opt to open camps, standards must be met.

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“What we are trying to do is create a model. A ‘florida model’ where we set out the guardrails for what is publicly unacceptable and acceptable, both in terms of preservation of public space and a basic level of decency,” said House Sponsor Sam Garrison during a committee hearing.

Advocates are quick to point out the bill does not provide any funding for local counties to create camps.

The Florida Housing Coalition has produced data which estimates that set up and operating cost will be about $23,000 per tent per year.

That same data estimate it will cost the Central Florida region, including Orange, Seminole and Osceola counties, over $14 million to set up and operate camps for a year.

“It would be detrimental if dollars are taken out of existing projects that are effective and are aimed at getting people out of homelessness and are then diverted to shift over into something like this,” said Are.

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Are noted that other communities have historically had better success with projects including low barrier shelters, prevention programs, and diversion programs as opposed to temporary encampments.

Both the senate and house version of the bills will be heard in their last committees Thursday before heading to the floor for a vote.

If the bill passes it would take effect October 1st, 2024.

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