Jeremy's Notebook

Ordinances Finding a Home

May 7, 2013

homelessAs 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.

  • City of New Orleans May 7, 2013 at 4:04 pm

    Amen Jeeperman.

  • jeeperman May 7, 2013 at 3:15 pm

    Bums, panhandlers and transients do not want to be “educated”. Unless it involves hand outs of cash, booze, drugs or smokes.
    You all are following yourselves and extremely ignorant to believe that you can get the above described to quite the lifestyle they have willing chosen.

    There is an industry that supports and enables their habits and lifestyle choice. And those are the ones that use the term “homeless” to extract donations and taxdollars on a local, state and federal level.

    And the bums laugh at you all.

  • Lindsay May 7, 2013 at 2:51 pm

    (Thanks Jeremy, too!)

  • Lindsay May 7, 2013 at 2:50 pm

    If we’re creating ordinances against things that make downtown life suck how about the following as well:
    1. Really obnoxiously loud motorcycles- noise ordinance anyone?
    2. “Christians” who aggressively pass out tracts that end up littering our sidewalks. Can aggressive proselytizing be up there with aggressive panhandling? It’s even MORE annoying.
    3. Men without shirts on. It’s gallery night, not the beach.
    4. Cover bands at gallery night. It’s gallery night, not the beach.

    I want downtown to thrive and be a place where everyone feels comfortable and safe. I’m not proposing a methadone bus or needle exchange program outside the Bodacious Olive but everyone deserves dignity and respect and safety even those who are homeless, mentally ill, or addicted.

    I would like our city council and government to propose some longer term solutions. An “out of sight, out of mind” approach is only going to backfire in the long run.

    Rick, thanks for covering this.

  • Stephanie May 7, 2013 at 2:04 pm

    City Administrator Bill Reynolds says the city will attempt to educate about additional resources. That doesn’t sound like a commitment it sounds like a cop-out. Pretending to care while you and yours are at World of Beer doesn’t count. Has the city even attempted to look into other resources or lobby for funds or is this just being said to make them look good. Sorry gentlemen its time for you to actually get your hands dirty and try to solve a real problem not just smile pretty for a camera. If you can’t, I’m sure we can vote for someone who will.

  • CJ Lewis May 7, 2013 at 12:39 pm

    This is another of those issues that screams out for a joint City-County meeting. Mayor Hayward sees the homeless as a form of living blight offending his aesthetic sensibilities. The more pedestrian City Administrator Reynolds bluntly imagines all homeless people as part of “the homeless criminal element” as if there is a grand homelessness conspiracy. Both fail to appreciate that too many families are only a few lost paychecks away from being homeless.

    What is going to be the practical effect of the City of Pensacola cracking down on the homeless? As one person pointed out, Escambia County taxpayers will have to pay to house some of them in the understaffed jail, a cost one person described as $1,500 a month. I presume the cost would be far more if the homeless need medical treatment that Escambia County is required to provide.

    Expect the homeless inside city limits to displace themselves outside of city limits to include in the unincorporated enclaves and cul-de-sacs surrounded by or bordering the city limits. Uncoordinated action by the City alone is just going to shift more of the burden onto the shoulders of the County as seems to be the plan.

    One point not mentioned yesterday is that the homeless can use the Downtown Branch of the YMCA to show and shave.

  • Steve C May 7, 2013 at 11:47 am

    “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.”

    Mr. Reynolds, How exactly do you plan to “educate” the local homeless population? Please educate me on your plan to educate the homeless.

  • Ames May 7, 2013 at 11:03 am

    What about Lakeview Center, aren’t they in the city limits??

  • EPenn May 7, 2013 at 11:02 am

    Hmmm… I wonder how many of these representatives of the City of Pensacola call themselves Christians, or for that matter humans?

  • Ames May 7, 2013 at 11:01 am

    Each council member should be required to spend 24 hours a day for 10 consecutive days outdoors with nothing more than $5 cash and a travel size bottle of shampoo. They should be prohibited from accepting any offer from any one they know and should have to be dressed like a seasoned homeless individual and eat only at a soup kitchen.
    These council members are just to high above many members of the city over which they rule. They are too far removed from the every day realities of life in the United States to be in positions of decision making that impacts the lives of those unfortunate individuals from whom they shield their eyes and hearts. None, not a one, is qualified for the responsibilities inherant to the government positions they hold.
    Why don’t they pass an ordinance requiring the local veteran’s organizations to support facilities a d services for their fellow veterans? Why don’t they require the city’s churches to provide personal hygiene and sleeping quarters for the homeless? All these folks that get up on Sunday morning and go to church, what are they doing the rest of the week? Or do they just get up and go to church on Sunday to apologize to God for not loving their fellow man as much as they love themselves so they can tell themselves and all who will listen that they are Christians?

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