Caring Pensacola

Blankets allowed, moratorium on any other changes to Pensacola homeless laws

February 28, 2014

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The Pensacola City Council approved Councilwoman Sherri Myers’ ordinance amendment to allow people to cover themselves with blankets in city parks. However, when it came to dealing with the other “homeless ordinances,” the debate became heated at last night’s city council meeting.

Councilman Larry Johnson pushed to suspend any additional amendments to the group of ordinances enacted in May that ban, for instance, washing up in public bathrooms, until a newly established task force makes its recommendations to the city.

“My objective is to find solutions and I believe that is what the entire council wants,” Johnson said.

However, homeless advocates and Council members Charles Bare and Myers advocated that the ordinances – which prohibit camping on public property, certain activities in city restrooms and aggressive panhandling – be suspended, instead.

Johnson’s motion was passed, 5-3.

Michael Kimberl, an advocate for the homeless, said: “Everyone is excited about moving forward with the task force. I don’t understand why we are putting a freeze on these ordinances. It’s more than obvious these issues were directed at the homeless and a group of people trying to address their grievances with city government. We need to suspend all these ordinances. That’s just logic. They don’t make any sense whatsoever.”

Rev. Nathan Monk said: “While we work things out, these ordinances should be benched.”

Monk helped get the so-called blanket ordinance repealed, which was finalized at Thursday’s city council meeting with a second reading and council approval. “My intent was not to embarrass the city. It was to come up with compassionate solutions.”

Johnson announced that a free public meeting with a leading expert on the homeless issue is scheduled March 12. Earlier in the week Council Executive Lila Cox has sent a memo to the council:

The City of Pensacola will host a Community Forum on Homelessness on Wednesday, March 12, 2014 from 4 to 6 pm in Council Chamber. The Community Forum will be conducted by Dr. Robert Marbut, a consultant who has worked on homeless issues for more than 30 years. Dr. Marbut’s work with other Florida municipalities is featured in the cover story of the current issue of the FLC Quality Cities magazine. I had the opportunity to hear him speak as part of a panel on homelessness at the FLC Annual Meeting in Orlando last August. The forum will include a speech of about one hour and an hour for a Q & A session.

I am more than happy to provide additional information to any of you. I will be working with other City staff to get the word out to the public. We will also extend an invitation to other elected officials, and community leaders. Let’s hope for a good turn out to increase awareness of the documented needs of the homeless and build expectations for a community response.

Please mark your calendar for March 12th from 4 to 6 pm.

Lila S. Cox, Ph.D.
Council Executive

Johnson pushed throughout the meeting for “civil discussion” on the homeless debate, thanking a few speakers on the issue for talking respectfully. He told one speaker, “I do appreciate the adult, civil way you conducted yourself. I hope all in the audience respect each other. I think we can all have adult conversations.”

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