Homeless people in the Tampa, Fla., area need to find a bed of their own to sleep in because they face arrest if they’re found sleeping in public after the Tampa City Council passed a new ordinance last week.
Homelessness is known to be a major problem in Tampa. A study done last year found that, among mid-sized cities, Tampa and the surrounding area had the highest number of homeless individuals at 7,419.
Adding to the difficulty is the lack of affordable homeless shelters, much less affordable permanent housing. “Most shelters in the Tampa Bay area charge $10 to $42 per night for a single person. They aren’t free,” Tasha Rennels, a Ph.D. student at University of South Florida, told Bay News 9.
Though the City Council acknowledged that shelters in the city are full almost every night, they didn’t include any additional funding for new shelters or housing to go along with the new ordinance.
The ordinance prohibits sleeping in public spaces like sidewalks and parks and bans public urination and defecation. People found violating the ordinance would be given the option of either going to a shelter or to jail.
“No matter how you want to – call this ordinance by any other name, it is criminalizing homelessness – that is the ultimate effect of this ordiance," Steve Sapp said. Sapp is the publisher of Tampa Epoch, which, according to its website, is a community magazine sold on street corners designed to assist homeless and the near homeless.
Advocates are furious over this new law criminalizing homelessness. Holding signs reading “Sleeping Is Not A Crime” and “Homelessness Is Not A Choice,” many demonstrated outside the Council and testified against the measure. A number of the protesters were elementary school children who handed out flyers and asked those passing by, “Where are they supposed to go?”