Homelessness in Osceola County is a problem that isn’t likely to go away anytime soon. There are numerous schools of thought on why we have people living on the streets, in the woods, behind retail centers and in hotel rooms… and even more thoughts on how to solve this “multi-layered” community challenge. It’s very likely that at some point you’ve driven past someone who appeared to be homeless, or you’ve perhaps walked past someone that was seemingly homeless as you were entering a retail store or other business.
So what should a community do to remedy what seems to be a chronic situation in Central Florida and specifically Osceola County. That’s a question that is on the community’s mind more and more each day it seems. Social media is once again riddled with homelessness comments and elected officials and community leaders are discussing the issue and trying to decide what’s best for all parties concerned. There is some data showing a large decrease in the amount of homelessness in Central Florida, while other reports show numbers greatly increasing. So if we can’t measure the issue correctly, how do we manage it? The answer is we can’t.
At the Monday June 10th Board of County Commissioners meeting, Commissioner Peggy Choudhry, of District One, informed the board that she would be traveling with Shelley Lauten – CEO of the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness and Mary Downing from the Community Hope Center to Bergen County New Jersey, which has been certified as the first “community” in the nation to end chronic homelessness. We applaud Commissioner Choudhry for looking to other areas in the country that have experienced success in reducing the number of chronically homeless and look forward to her as a featured speaker with Positively Osceola upon her return!
In 2009 Orlando had an ordinance in place sec.18A09 (a) and (o) that stated this:
DO NOT LIE OR OTHERWISE BE IN A HORIZONTAL POSITION ON A PARK BENCH … DO NOT SLEEP OR REMAIN IN ANY BUSHES, SHRUBS OR FOLIAGE … per city code. They also attempted to discourage aggressive panhandling by making them carry ID cards, and later by restricting them to 3-by-15-foot “panhandling zones” painted in blue on sidewalks downtown.
Orlando has certainly come a long way in how they manage homelessness, and with a recent change they’ve made to how they deal with the homeless in Orlando they’re hoping they’ll see a reduction in homelessness while not violating the rights of those who are asking for money. No longer will there be the “blue painted boxes” on sidewalks which were designated as “legal panhandling areas.” Panhandling can take place outside of those areas, but it is no longer legal for individuals to take anything from cars on Orlando streets. There are other details within the new ordinance, and Orlando will certainly be watching to see what the result is from their new outlook on panhandling and homelessness on the street.
Osceola County also recently made a change on how they deal with homelessness within the West and East 192 corridor. The county commission has recently enacted a law making it a crime to set up “temporary habitation” punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.
This basically means no pitching of tents, no cardboard shanties, no small campfires and no camping in bus shelters. However, the new ordinance does not make it illegal to sleep on a bench or on the street or sidewalk.
Most everyone can agree that there should be a way for businesses to prevent homeless individuals from sleeping in front of their establishments, but the question of whether they should be arrested or fined remains to be seen. There are many questions on how to reduce the amount of homelessness in our society, and how we can do it with respect and care… but one thing is certain, the problem will not go away, and we are talking about people that matter and that deserve enough respect from us to take the time to do our absolute best in making a positive difference in their lives.