Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Bob Buckhorn proudly signs new ordinances cracking down on the homeless in Tampa

Officials say the intention is not to arrest the homeless, but to offer them a bed in a shelter.

Posted By on Tue, Jul 23, 2013 at 1:13 PM

On Monday, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn posted a photo of himself on social media that showed him signing two new ordinances that ban panhandling in downtown Tampa, Ybor City, and parts of West Tampa. The City Council voted 6-1 last week to approve the measures, which also apply to bus and trolley stops, sidewalk cafes, and anywhere within 15-feet of a financial institution in Tampa.

But city officials say the intention is not to arrest those found to be in violation of the ordinances, but to offer them a bed in a shelter.

"We will not arrest them," Buckhorn told CL on Sunday. "We think there will be enough beds available on a given night that we can give them the choice of either go to bed in a shelter, or go to jail. And you make that call. And hopefully those who are smart will make that call of going into a shelter and those who don't, well, those are ramifications for that."

The crackdown is the second time that Tampa has passed laws regarding the homeless population in the last two years. In 2011 the city enacted an ordinance that banned panhandling on city streets for six days a week, allowing an exception for those selling newspapers.

But after merchants in downtown and Ybor City continued to file reports about public urination and defecation by the homeless, as well as complaints about the number of people congregating in some public parks, the Buckhorn administration began working on the new ordinances that were passed last week by everyone on City Council with the exception of Mary Mulhern (Councilman Frank Reddick's request to delay the ordinance by 90 days failed to get a majority).

The ordinances prohibit police from making an arrest if there are no available beds in shelters.

The laws are also getting national attention after folks from the progressive blog Think Progress wrote a post about them on Monday. Predictably, the City Council is being denounced.

That's the all Democratic Party City Council, which surprised one commenter identified as Marty Pollard, who posted this on the Think Progress site:

Are the Tampa council members who voted for this Republican? Because it would be a perfect illustration of their constant inability to think through their impulsive decisions.

In response to the charge that the city is "criminalizing the homeless," Mayor Buckhorn disagreed. He told CL, "We're criminalizing public urination, and we're criminalizing sleeping in the park and all the other things that affect 99. 9 percent of the people."

Buckhorn said these issues have become a "really bad problem" in the city, and he seemed to be taking a shot at Mulhern when he said that "those who didn't support that ordinance that gives the TPD tools to be more effective really are just doing a disservice to the downtown residents and Ybor businesses."

Mulhern said on Thursday that the city hasn't done enough to implement policies that would provide an alternative to arresting the homeless. She continued criticizing the Buckhorn administration, saying that for years, she and Councilwoman Yolie Capin have voiced the need for a facility a la Pinellas County's Safe Harbor, which could be used to transition the homeless, and which the city has failed to follow through with.

Buckhorn's political career began on the Tampa City Council back in 1995, just as Rudy Giuliani's efforts to clean up New York City were gathering national attention for his emphasis on the "broken windows" criminology theory. That theory states that maintaining and monitoring urban environments in a well-ordered condition may stop further vandalism and escalation into more serious crime. Buckhorn has always subscribed to that theory, and said it was another reason he was launching his 30-day push with code enforcement to clean up homes that have fallen into disrepute.

The latest count of homeless in Hillsborough County is 2,275, a radical reduction from the more than 17,000 people said to be homeless in 2011. Those numbers were based on a different method of counting members of the homeless population.

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