Commissioners of Leon County Vote Against Ordinance Focused on Regulating Homelessness

March 10, 2022 News & Announcements

Commissioners of Leon County Vote Against Ordinance Focused on Regulating Homelessness

On January 25, 2022, Leon County Commissioners voted against Leon County Ordinance No. 22 drafted by Commissioners Carolyn Cummings, Bill Proctor, Brian Welch, and Rick Minor that sought to address issues connected to homelessness such as homeless camps and solicitation. Although the drafters said the intent of the ordinance centered around issues of public safety, opponents argued it was a way to criminalize homelessness. Residents from Leon County also voiced their concerns that the ordinance was just a way to criminalize people for being poor.

What Would the Ordinance Have Done?

The ordinance would have regulated sleeping or camping in certain public areas, soliciting, and public urination or defecation. Let’s break down each:

Sleeping/Camping in Certain Public Areas

The ordinance would have made it unlawful for an individual, after having been informed or given notice by a law enforcement officer that they were not to sleep or camp in that public area or public right-of-way, to:

  • Camp in that public area without permission or authorization of the owner of such public area; or
  • Construct, or maintain in a public area any temporary structure, tent, or other objects intended to be used for camping, without permission or authorization of the owner of such public area.

If a person was found to be in violation of this provision, a Street Outreach Team member (a trained homeless outreach worker employed by the County to provide information about social services to people and families experiencing homelessness) would direct the person to the appropriate shelter or housing service provider. If the person refused such assistance, or if they had been offered or received such assistance in the last 90 days, and still failed to comply with the provision after notice of a violation had been provided, they could then be cited. A violation would be treated in the same manner as a misdemeanor and would be punished by up to 60 days in jail, up to a $500 fine, or both.


The ordinance would have made it unlawful for a person to stand or remain on any median while holding or displaying any advertisement, sign, or other media that is for view by any occupant of a vehicle. It would supersede a similar ordinance within the county and include a penalty of $15 per violation as prescribed under Section 318.18 of the Florida Statutes.

Public Urination or Defecation

The ordinance would have made it unlawful for any person to urinate or defecate in any public area that was not designated for use as a urinal or toilet. Violation of this would result in a $500 fine.

Controversy Around the Ordinance 

Opponents to the measure like Karen Woodall, the executive director for the Florida People’s Advocacy Center, argued that the ordinance would do little to combat the underlying problems of homelessness. Woodall stated the focus should “instead be on creating housing, placing portable restrooms in known congregation areas while public restrooms are built, and establishing a government-staffed campground for people who may not want to go to a shelter.” Homelessness, she stated, stems from poverty, and it is systemic change – not criminalization – that would solve that problem. By criminalizing behavior in this way, the passage of the ordinance would result in an increased population of inmates at Leon County Detention Facility. This was especially concerning to Leon County Sheriff Walt McNeil, who brought the topic up to the board since the facility is currently nearing its population cap of 1,200, resulting in inmates being sent to neighboring county jails to prevent overcrowding.

However, County Attorney Chasity O’Steen disagreed that the ordinance was rooted in criminalizing homelessness, stating that the intent of the measure was to alleviate the effects of certain actions that “put a strain on service resources and law enforcement [which lead] to safety risk[s].” Commissioners in support of the ordinance agreed that it not only provides for increased public safety of the public but also those experiencing homelessness. The ordinance, they say, helps connect those individuals with services and is a “multi-faceted approach to proactively and lawfully address these activities.” Commissioner Welch echoed these sentiments, but also made some alarmingly dangerous comments. These comments deemed the ordinance “a reasonable approach to setting some guard rails or a line in the sand for what we consider an acceptable quality of life.” He continued by saying “this [measure] isn’t cold-hearted. This is not criminalizing homelessness. This is standardizing an acceptable quality of life. This is standardizing dignity.”

These comments paint the homeless as an uncivilized group of animals who choose to not have an acceptable quality of life. Although the proposed ordinance would have created helpful provisions to connect individuals to social services, such ignorant rhetoric does little but increase the discrimination, mistreatment and violence homeless people face, which often causes them to not seek out these social services. Criminalizing activities that are inherent to personhood is not a way to cultivate an “acceptable quality of life” for the homeless or the public. On the contrary, a response to this issue rooted in criminalization, rather than systemic change, is not only counterproductive as it fines and incarcerates individuals who are already poor but it is unnecessarily cruel and extends the time people will likely spend on the street.

What Happens Next?

Instead of moving forward with the local law, Leon County Commissioners are instead hoping that their half-million-dollar investment in more staff for Leon County Sheriff’s Office Homeless Outreach Street team will be more effective.

Written by Sarah Kamide

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