Citing an “interest in aesthetics,” Ft. Lauderdale is on the verge of passing a law that would forbid anyone from storing personal items on public property.
The regulation poses a new and real problem to the city’s homeless population who, despite not having a home in which to store their belongings, still do have an array of belongings to call their own.
The law would require only that police give a homeless person 24 hours’ notice before confiscating any personal possessions stored on public property.
In order to retrieve confiscated items, they must pay the city “reasonable charges for storage and removal of the items.” If a person demonstrates that he or she cannot pay the “reasonable” charge, the fee may be waived.
If personal items are not collected within 30 days, the city may dispose of them.
Although the regulation has attracted heavily negative responses from residents, one of whom criticized the city’s commissioners for “demoniz[ing] the homeless,” the City Commission gave unanimous preliminary approval to the measure last week.
“How does this help? How does this not exemplify cruelty?” asked Jeff Weinberger of the Broward Homeless Campaign. Weinberger added that homeless people “don’t have a choice but to keep their stuff outside.”
Backing the commission’s actions were business leaders “who said they were looking for some controls on a situation that scares away customers and makes visitors uncomfortable.”
Ft. Lauderdale’s homeless population may soon be hit by additional, restrictions including prohibitions on panhandling at intersections and sleeping in public, as well as restrictions on charity groups that hand out food to the homeless.
As Maria Foscarinis, Executive Director of the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, said, “Maintaining city streets is a legitimate concern, but simply punishing homeless people for leaving their possessions in public places is not an effective or humane way to address it.”
Foscarinis noted that instead of simply confiscating homeless peoples’ belongings to make the city more beautiful and appealing, city and business leaders should be working together to “develop alternative short and long term solutions, such as public storage options for homeless people and affordable housing.”
While some cities, such as Miami, Raleigh, and Harrisburg, are embracing ordinances that similarly punish people for being homeless, others are looking to enact measures to make life easier for the homeless. Davis, Calif., for instance, is constructing public lockers where homeless people can safely store their possessions.