Florida – The Florida House of Representatives is set to discuss a contentious bill that could significantly impact the homeless population in the state. Known as the “Unauthorized Public Camping and Public Sleeping” bill (HB 1365/ SB 1530), it aims to regulate where homeless individuals can camp or sleep in public areas.
Stringent Regulations on Public Camping
The proposed legislation, if passed, would prohibit people from sleeping on public property in counties, municipalities, public buildings, or rights-of-way without obtaining a permit. This move is an attempt to override the home rule of municipalities that currently allow homeless individuals to camp on public property.
A key aspect of the bill is the strict conditions set for counties wishing to designate specific areas for the homeless. These areas must be equipped with public restrooms and provide 24-hour security and access to behavioral health services, all approved by the Florida Department of Children and Families. Additionally, the use of drugs and alcohol would be prohibited in these designated areas, which also cannot be located in places that could negatively impact the value or security of residential or commercial properties.
Potential Legal Repercussions for Municipalities
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Sam Garrison, R-Fleming Island, also includes provisions that could lead to legal actions against municipalities. It allows individuals or businesses to sue a municipality for failing to enforce these regulations. If successful, they could be reimbursed for attorney fees, court costs, investigative costs, and other expenses.
Garrison, who is poised to become the House speaker for 2026–28, emphasized the need to reassess state mental health hospitals. He questioned whether there are enough beds, the suitability of occupants for those beds, and the quality and cost-effectiveness of the treatment provided.
The State of Homelessness in Florida
Alarming statistics highlight the urgency of addressing homelessness in Florida. Last year, over 15,000 individuals were considered unsheltered and homeless in the state. Many of those with behavioral health disorders report the lack of affordable housing as a major obstacle to recovery. Of the roughly 30,000 homeless people in Florida, including those in shelters, hotels, or staying with family, about 17% were living with a severe mental illness, and around 12% were battling a substance use disorder, as per a DCF report. Broward and Pinellas counties are next in line in terms of the state’s largest homeless population after Miami-Dade County.
Related Legislation and Future Outlook
Sen. Jonathan Martin, a Republican from Fort Myers and chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, is sponsoring a similar bill in the Senate. Additionally, another bill this session, the Solicitation of Contributions Act (HB 759) by Rep. Alex Andrade, R-Pensacola, seeks to make panhandling illegal in most cases and could potentially classify it as a felony.
The discussion of these bills marks a critical juncture in Florida’s approach to handling homelessness, potentially altering the landscape of support and care for one of the most vulnerable populations in the state. As the legislature debates these bills, the outcomes could have far-reaching implications for homeless individuals and the communities they reside in.