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Leaders Look to Approve Series of Laws Targeting Homeless In Clearwater

City leaders look to ban sitting on the sidewalk, overnight camping and increase the penalty for soliciting for up to 60 days in jail during a City Council meeting Thursday at City Hall.

City leaders look to ban sitting on the sidewalk, overnight camping and increase the penalty for soliciting for up to 60 days in jail during a City Council meeting Thursday at City Hall. 

The laws are part of a series of laws aimed at the homeless.

Rob Surette, assistant city attorney who put together the ordinances, said they are not devised as ways to criminalize homelessness.

“The protocol officers will follow is to connect homeless individuals with social networks available,” Surette said. “The intent is not to arrest a homeless individual... Any of these ordinances, although they are arrestable, that will not be the first choice for an officer.”

Surette based the laws on similar ones that other cities are using, such as in the Tampa Bay area, Phoenix and Seattle.

One ordinance (8347-12) makes it unlawful to sit or lie down in the right-of-way in the East Gateway District and within the Beach Walk area from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. This would include places like public docks, piers, boardwalks and sidewalks.

Violators would not be fined on the first offense and will be given the chance to relocate to a place where sitting or lying down is allowed. Sitting or lying down is allowed in these instances:

  • In a park or public beach
  • Because of a medical emergency
  • Sitting on a chair or bench as it is intended
  • Use of a wheelchair, a baby carriage, or like conveyance
  • As part of activities like a parade, festival, performance, rally, demonstration or meeting
  • Sitting at a sidewalk café  
  • Sitting or lying down when it is an integral part of a protest accompanied by incidents of speech such as signs or literature explaining the protest

Another ordinance gives solicitation rules already on the books more teeth.

Individuals are are not allowed to solicit from drivers in travel lanes on public streets and while in public parking lots and garages. If caught violators are given a fine.

“Because Clearwater police officers frequently observe the same individuals repeatedly soliciting after having been issued a civil citation for unlawful soliciting, officers need a greater deterrent,” according to city documents.

By moving the soliciting ordinance to Chapter 21 of the city’s code, violators could face up to 60 days in jail, depending on the discretion of the arresting officer. People can still apply for a permit to legally solicit up to 10 times (days) a year.

Another ordinance (8313-12) leaders are looking at makes it unlawful for someone to camp outside, unless approved by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department.

Officers will be required under the ordinance to give a person with no permanent or temporary residence two chances to find a shelter or some other place to relocate before citing them with a violation.

If public or private shelter space is not available in Pinellas County, officers will not be able to cite the violator.

Officers are also required to ensure any of that person’s private property is stored at the station for up to 60 days.

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