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City Takes No Action to Halt Homeless Feedings at Five Points

City attorney Robert Fournier advised the city commissioners that much more background information is needed about homeless activity at Five Points Park before a restrictive feeding ordinance would stand up in court.

For now, it appears the city commission has decided to slow down on ordinances targeting homeless and vagrants in downtown Sarasota. The commission will wait to hear a report from the Suncoast Partnership's Ten Year Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness in September or October before taking a vote to change ordinances that would affect homeless feeding.

"What we have looked at and talked about are [diagnosis] for a symptom rather than the issue of the homeless and that’s where our conversation [should be] going," said commissioner Willie Shaw during Wednesday's workshop. 

Shaw said Sarasota is once again getting the moniker of "meanest city" regarding its policies targeting the homeless. Shaw said the city should wait until all parties involved get together to have a productive discussion before drafting an ordinance. 

During Wednesday's workshop at city hall, city commissioners discussed a petition brought to city earlier this summer by downtown condo owners that requested a change to the city's special events ordinance and commercial vending ordinance. 

The vending ordinance regulates that vendors must purchase a yearly permit that allows them to sell items of merchandise in the city. The ordinance does not apply to giveaways, such as a public feeding, and petitioners wanted those giving away freebies to have permits, too.

According to city attorney Robert Fournier, the petitioners also wanted the city to lower the number of people that could gather in "passive" parks from 75 to 12 people.

Passive parks, Fournier said, are smaller, quieter parks in the city. He said the way the petition is drafted, if the city used that language in an ordinance it could be struck down by the court.

If the city changed the special event ordinance, "Any legal analysis of the special event [ordinance] likely will be discussed for 1st Amendment issues," Fournier said. 

He added that the 1st Amendment not only applies to conventional speech, but also expressive or non-verbal speech. Under such standards, Fournier said it could be argued that the homeless feedings are expressive conduct speech. 

Echoing concerns brought to the discussion by Fournier, commissioner Shannon Snyder said he believed if the city were to amend the ordinance as it is stated in the petition that it would be a waste of taxpayer money because it would be shot down in the court system. 

"I don’t think there is enough evidence to support an ordinance that will withstand court scrutiny," Snyder said. 

He suggested getting the supporting documentation Fournier said the city would need to prepare an ordinance but only to use it if necessary. Snyder said he was hopeful that when the plan to end homelessness is presented in the fall that no ordinance would have to be amended. 

"We want it to go one way, but we are still prepared for the worst case scenario," Snyder said. 

"I think we need to move forward and hopefully get all the stakeholders at the table," said Mayor Suzanne Atwell. "We need to get information, get documentation. There's a lot more work to be done on this. The larger picture here [is to end] homelessness."

The next time there is a public hearing on the issue of feeding the homeless the commission said it will be the only item on the agenda. Commissioner Paul Caragiulo said it was unfortunate the last public comments were limited to two minutes. 

Commissioners agreed and said public comments during the future public hearing will be five minutes. 

Dotti Benz Giles July 14, 2011 at 06:39 PM
2 Thessalonians 3:10 New International Version (NIV) 10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”
Lisa July 16, 2011 at 11:45 AM
@nancy These "BUMS" you speak of are human beings. Bad things have happened to put them in this situation. Be it drug addiction, mental health, or a system of unforgiving people who "abuse" them enough that they also belive they will never change. Name calling is not a very "christian" way of handling yourself. it is our duty to help all in need..out of sight, out of mind will not work. We must find a way to heal those who are suffering, and not continue the abuse.
Jerry September 19, 2011 at 02:42 PM
What you need to realize is that some of these people are on the streets due to mental problems. Some are minor, but some can lead to violence. This is stating a FACT. Our mental care facilities don't have the money to treat everyone who needs it, leaving some (even the especially violent) on the streets. Those of you who don't see these BUMS or vagrants, or whatever you wish to call them will be changing your tune in a hurry when someone is seriously attacked. It's not a matter of "if", it's a matter of "when."
Proofisinthepudding October 05, 2011 at 12:01 PM
Nancy, as always you have good points. Has anyone talking seen Skid Row first hand? If you did you would have second thoughts about allowing these people to loiter around downtown. People come to Sarasota for vacation, feeling safe in walking around downtown at night, but when you have vagrants and bums down there, that changes the whole attitude. People will go elsewhere to enjoy their nights out. Which means a burden and loss of business for owners. Turning downtown into a dump. Many places have tried to bring those same people into shelters and they would not stay because it was restrictive. I say move them off downtown, put them in a shelter and if they come back to downtown they should be arrested for loitering. Sounds bad, but then they have a place to sleep.
oscar December 07, 2012 at 03:21 AM
The police,city and state need to step in and create a program that can determine if these people actually need help. If they do need help theyvshould get a few chances if theyvare juat vagrants and are gonna be begging and panhandling theae people should be removed along with any criminals or drug addicts this should not be tolerated in any city. I know the difference between a person who needs a hand and a bum who wants a handout these gypsys need to be irradicated to protect our families and keep our cities beautiful.

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