Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signs bill banning homeless encampments


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation Wednesday prohibiting local municipalities from allowing people to camp or sleep on public property, vowing that the measure would ensure “homeless individuals have the resources they need to get back on their feet.”

At the bill signing, DeSantis and top Republicans in the Florida Legislature highlighted that their anti-public camping bill would provide what are known as “wraparound services,” including mental health care, for the state’s homeless population. The governor said the bill “will help maintain and ensure that Florida streets are clean and that Florida streets are safe for our residents.”

The legislation, which takes effect Oct. 1, requires municipalities to designate a specific public space for camping and sleeping, if the shelters are full, with approval from the state Department of Children and Families. They must include security, behavioral health services and bathrooms with running water.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Sam Garrison, R-Fleming Island, earlier told the USA TODAY Network that the state has allocated $30 million – $10 million more than the previous year – for what are known as “continuums of care” to prepare for the law. Continuums of care are the regional bodies coordinating housing and services for homeless people.

But critics say the state’s $30 million appropriation for the measure isn’t enough.

“We’re going to need so much more funding if we’re going to build up these resources,” said Megan Sarmento, an outreach program manager for the Florida Harm Reduction Collective in Tampa. “Even now, how the system is, we are finding people on the streets and are unable to link them to care because of the lack of resources, including housing and detox.”

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‘Resources are either scarce or not allowed’

DeSantis said the law was Florida’s way of preventing cities from looking like San Francisco, a city he has criticized for its “leftist policies” and for allowing parks and sidewalks “to be overwhelmed with tent cities and homeless encampments.”

“These are difficult issues, but you should not be accosted by a homeless like we see,” DeSantis said at Wednesday’s news conference. “You should be able to walk down the street and live your life.”

Critics have said the legislation unfairly targets a vulnerable population and places limits on municipalities struggling to deal with their homeless population. The measure has no penalties for those living on the streets, but it allows local residents, businesses and the state attorney general to sue local governments that don’t follow the restrictions. 

The state’s homeless population was estimated to be about 30,809 in 2023, according to the Florida Department of Health. Sarmento works in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, which ranked third and fourth in the number of homeless people last year.

Currently in Hillsborough, only one detox facility that takes people without insurance, and it’s always full, she said. “I think the idea of providing wraparound services is great, but the two services that people want the most, detox and medications for opioid use disorder, those resources are either scarce or not allowed,” Sarmento said.

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Conservative think tank, others behind bill

According to the January 2022 Point-in-Time Count, 582,462 people were experiencing homelessness across America. As the number of people experiencing homelessness rises across the country, states and cities have turned to numerous possible solutions such as re-housing programs, providing rental assistance, increasing the number of shelters, and establishing coordinated outreach centers.

But an increasing number of cities and states have passed laws making it illegal to live out of tents and cars or sleep in public spaces.

In 2021, the National Homelessness Law Center released a national study on state laws criminalizing homelessness. Almost every state, 48 in total, has implemented at least one law that prohibits or restricts the conduct of people experiencing homelessness, according to the study.

The study added that 17 states had already criminalized camping in public places and noted that a camping ban “unnecessarily displaces a person experiencing homelessness to another public place, where they might find themselves at risk of subsequent enforcement.”

The conservative, Texas-based Cicero Institute, a policy research group, has advocated for states to adopt restrictions like the new Florida law. Republican megadonor and billionaire tech entrepreneur Peter Thiel has promoted the idea, along with Joe Lonsdale, a tech investor who hosted a Texas fundraiser for DeSantis during his now-suspended presidential campaign. 

Stateline previously reported that there had been nine bills introduced in six states between 2021 and 2022 that used similar or the same language as legislation by the Cicero Institute.

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Contributing: John Kennedy, USA TODAY Network – Florida; Claire Thornton, USA TODAY

Ana Goñi-Lessan, state watchdog reporter for the USA TODAY Network – Florida, can be reached at [email protected].


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