Tampa passes new ordinances on "The Houseless" despite protests (Photos) - www.Houseless.org

For a country - United States of America - that dictates unto other nations how to treat their citizens, many with the United States of America's governmental system persecute, torment and/or intimidate those who are "The Houseless".

This must STOP, and stop being Hippocrates.

"The Houseless"

A man without a home sleeps in the early morning outside of City Hall. Credit: Amanda Mole

It was 8:45 a.m. The City Council meeting was scheduled to start at 9 a.m., and news reporters and TV cameras were already positioned outside of Tampa's City Hall to cover a peaceful demonstration by homeless advocates.

Why all the fuss? Item #60 on the City Council agenda would make it legal to arrest someone for "sleeping in public" or "storing personal property in public" -- effectively making it illegal to be homeless within the Tampa city limits.

Item #59, which banned aggressive panhandling, was also up for a vote. Business owners in downtown Tampa had filed numerous complaints against homeless people, complaining that their panhandling was driving customers away.

Homeless advocates hold a peaceful demonstration outside of Tampa City Hall.
Photo credit: 
Amanda Mole

Homeless advocates gathered to oppose Item #60, drawing reporters and photographers from Bay News 9, WFLA News Channel 8, ABC Action News, the Tampa Bay Times and the Tampa Tribune. 

Most of the morning was spent answering questions and proposing better solutions to homelessness, taking pictures, and stressing again and again that jail is not the answer.

"Jail does nothing to solve the problem. It only tries to make the problem invisible. It's not even a Band-Aid," said Heather Curry, Ph.D. student at USF.

"Most shelters in the Tampa Bay area charge $10 to $42 per night for a single person. They aren't free," Tasha Rennels told Bay News 9. "18 out of 25 shelters cater to a specific need such as domestic violence or mental illness, and those are important, but there aren't shelters available for people who can't afford housing. Lack of affordable housing is the biggest problem."

After over an hour of debate, the new ordinance passed with a 4-3 vote, with council members Mulhern, Reddick and Capin first trying to get a 90-day continuance and then voting no when they failed to delay the vote.

The city has no plans to create temporary or transitional housing. Council members also acknowledged that Tampa's shelters are already full on a nightly basis, with up to 100 people on a waiting list to get a bed. The ordinance's supporters responded that the law will not be enforced if there are no shelters available, and that another option is to take the homeless to a shelter outside of city limits. A police officer stated that "the city will provide resources" to a homeless person taken to a shelter outside of the city to get back the next day if the person requires city services, but no plans have been put in place. Council member Charlie Miranda waved off concerns, stating, "We have to start somewhere."

The homeless advocates were disappointed with the decision, but the most stunning disappointment came with reading the news articles and viewing TV segments that covered the demonstration. The media that covered the story was glaringly one-sided, giving substantial air time and word count to supporters of the ordinance, and for the most part ignoring arguments put forth by the protesters.

"I am very disappointed with the lack of objectivity. These articles are obviously very one-sided and did not include anything we said as far as why it's bad legislation or what a real solution might look like," one of the demonstrators stated.

"The wind has been taken out of my sails," said Steven Sapp, publisher of the Tampa Epoch and long-time homeless advocate. "What happened to unbiased journalism, focused on facts? I expected more out of the Tampa Bay Times and the new Tampa Tribune. They are doing nothing more than spreading false information and mostly grouping aggressive panhandling (ordinance 59) with sleeping outdoors (ordinance 60)."

The homeless advocates are disappointed, but are far from giving up. Future plans of the group include creating a network of organizations that focus on homeless relief, community awareness events, and advocating for Housing First models such as Resurrection House in Sarasota.

Bay News 9 interviews a homeless advocate. Credit: Amanda Mole

Elementary-school-aged children protest on the steps outside City Hall, asking people, "Where are they supposed to go?" Credit: Amanda Mole

Homeless advocates protest stricter ordinances on homeless people in Tampa. Credit: Amanda Mole

WFLA interviews two Ph.D. students from USF about why the new ordinance is bad legislation. Credit: Amanda Mole

A child protester hands a flyer to a passer-by. Credit: Amanda Mole

WFLA interviews a homeless advocate about better solutions to homelessness in Tampa. Credit: Amanda Mole

Lest we not forget!

15th St. and M St. in DC, "The Houseless" at http://Houseless.net

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