Leon County Commission asks staff to draft public defecation, camping ordinance

'I don’t think it is prudent of us to let people live like that. It is patently unsafe.'

The Leon County Commission voted 4-3 Tuesday to direct staff to develop an ordinance targeting camping, sleeping, urinating or defecating in certain public areas.

The commissioners supporting the move voiced a willingness to explore ordinances meant to curtail dangerous behavior from people without homes who don’t wish to seek help from local resources. Commissioners Nick Maddox, Kristin Dozier, and Jimbo Jackson voted against the motion.

Commissioner Brian Welch was the first to signal his support pursuing the drafts. He said he does not want to target the homeless community with arrests, but is concerned about safety issues, like setting fires on sidewalks and sleeping near intersections.

“I don’t think it is prudent of us to let people live like that. It is patently unsafe,” he said. “I am under the impression that we have people that don’t want the services, don’t want to be sheltered, just want to live dangerously.”

The vote included a reallocation of $490,817 in funding from the County’s Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery Funds to the Leon County Sheriff’s Office to support two additional LCSO Homeless Outreach Street Team (HOST) deputies. HOST is tasked with connecting individuals and families to available housing and local social services, including mental health counseling and substance abuse programs.

Leon County Sheriff Walt McNeil, speaking to the Commission during its meeting, asked them not to pursue new ordinances until the new HOST deputies and other county programs have an opportunity to help the local homeless population.

County Commissioner Kristin Dozier wanted to follow McNeil’s request. She said fining homeless people for potential ordinance violations could just exacerbate the problem without providing any aide to them or those affected by the listed violations.

“We are not criminalizing the behavior, I know that, but it could be leaning in that direction, and that is really challenging for me,” she said.

The vote also included instructions to draft an ordinance repealing the county’s “solicitation on public streets” ordinance. The Leon County Sheriff’s office has not enforced the ordinance because federal court rulings have established soliciting is a form of constitutionally protected free speech. 

Commissioner Rich Minor, who supported drafting the ordinance, said he wants to look at the ordinance, but believes more focus should go into programs like HOST and efforts to increase local affordable housing. 

“It is not quite as simple as passing the ordinance and it’s a silver bullet,” he said.

County Attorney Chasity O’Steen said there are other legal concerns besides the soliciting ruling. The 8th Amendment, which protects individuals from cruel or unusual punishment, has been interpreted to prohibit the criminalization of homelessness. Therefore, the county would have to have a housing alternative for an ordinance to target sleeping or camping in public places.

“If you do not have alternatives, you have a problem,” she said.

County Commissioner Jimbo Jackson said he could support drafting the ordinance in the future, but voted it against it now because he wanted to see what the Sheriff’s office would do with the added HOST deputies.

“It’s not against the law to be crazy, it’s not against the law to be stupid, it’s not against the law to be homeless,” he said.

A draft of the ordinance will be returned to the Commission for consideration in early 2022.

Tristan Wood

Tristan Wood graduated from the University of Florida in 2021 with a degree in Journalism. A South Florida native, he has a passion for political and accountability reporting. He previously reported for Fresh Take Florida, a news service that covers the Florida Legislature and state political stories operating out of UF’s College of Journalism and Communications. You can reach Tristan at [email protected], or on Twitter @TristanDWood


3 comments

  • PeterH

    December 15, 2021 at 9:32 am

    Meanwhile do absolutely nothing about Florida’s three million unregulated leaking septic tanks that spew toxic effluent into our groundwater and gulf coast waters. It’s commonly called FREEDUMB!

    • Gregory Mayfield

      December 16, 2021 at 9:29 am

      There are nutrient reducing systems being installed throughout Florida. There is technology available for the millions of septic systems that are in the water table. If septic was funded like big sewer pipes are funded we could solve the problems for a fraction of the cost to tax payers.

  • Dr. Bob

    December 17, 2021 at 8:32 am

    Commissioner Brian Welch….yup, jail the homeless…that will cure this social problem. Treat them baddly then they won’t want to be poor or homeless. That’s like taxing the poor at a higher rate so they will not want to be poor. Why not install a network of public bathrooms? Try a humane approach for once.

Comments are closed.


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