Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The meanest city in America is ...

Sarasota is the meanest city in America toward homeless and poor people, says a report released today by the National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty.

Sarasota topped the list because after two successive anti-lodging laws were overturned as unconstitutional by state courts, the city passed a third law banning lodging outdoors. This latest version appears to be explicitly aimed at homeless persons. One of the elements necessary for arrest under the law is that the person “has no other place to live.” Read the statute here and see previous post here.

The top 20 meanest cities were chosen based on the number of anti-homeless laws in the city, the enforcement of those laws and severities of penalties, the general political climate toward homeless people in the city, local advocate support for the meanest designation, the city’s history of criminalization measures, and the existence of pending or recently enacted criminalization legislation in the city.

They didn’t make the top 20, but several other Florida cities were mentioned in the report: Bradenton, Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, Gainesville, Jacksonville, Lake Worth, Miami, Orlando and St. Augustine.

There was one bright spot in Florida. Broward County was cited for its Taskforce for Ending Homelessness, Inc., which provides outreach, education, and advocacy services for the homeless population and has partnered with the Fort Lauderdale police department to create an outreach team made up of police officers and a civilian outreach worker who is formerly homeless. Estimates suggest that there are at least 2,400 fewer arrests each year as a result of the Homeless Outreach Team.

Read the report, A Dream Denied: The Criminalization of Homelessness in U.S. Cities, here.

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