As the Pensacola City Council considered blessing a collection of ordinances that are “not directed toward any particular group,” a young woman relayed to them her experience years ago of being homeless.
“I had to sleep in my car,” she told the council. “That was very scary in and of itself. I cannot even imagine having to worry about being arrested.”
Mayor Ashton Hayward had placed three proposed ordinances on council’s table. The first prohibits “camping”—ranging from tents to covering with cardboard-blankets—while the second pertained to public restrooms and the third packaged together public urination and defecation with “aggressive solicitation, begging or panhandling.”
The administration floated similar efforts in late 2011—in the waning midst of the Occupy Pensacola campout at Pensacola City Hall—only to see them die before council as a vocal contingent of homeless advocates and religious organizations cried foul. This year, Hayward’s homeless ordinances seem set for smooth sailing.
“If any of y’all sitting here think this is easy to do, you are mistaken,” Council President P.C. Wu addressed the public gallery of decided opposition.
By the end of last night’s Committee of the Whole meeting, council had signed off on the ordinances before them. While the public urination/defecation aspect passed unanimously, the other ordinances relied on a consistent block of six council members. The “aggressive begging” portion of the third ordinance was carved out and held until the next COW due to it being a last-minute add-on to Monday’s agenda.
“Holy crap, seriously?” said Jason King, as the first vote made it clear what direction the evening would be taking.
King heads up Sean’s Outpost, a local organization that works with the homeless community. He was among several people urging council to reject the proposed ordinances.
No one from the public spoke in favor of the ordinances. Several spoke against it. They dove into Biblical parables, said the ordinances dealt with symptoms not the root problems, and accused officials of simply trying to push the homeless population outside the city limits.
“What’s the plan here guys?” King asked. “What are these guys suppose to do?”
With the exceptions of Sherri Myers, Charles Bare and Gerald Wingate, council was in no mood for such discussions. With assurances from City Administrator Bill Reynolds that the city will attempt to educate the local homeless population about available resources and also lobby for additional funds to put toward such ends, the council is apparently ready to embrace the ordinances.
The ordinances—with the exception of the “aggressive begging” portion—will have their first reading Thursday night at the regular council meeting, with the second and final readying set for council’s May 23 meeting. The “aggressive” portion will be discussed during council’s next COW.
City Council meets Thursday, at 5:30 p.m., at Pensacola City Hall.