The Leon County Commissioners approved the repeal of the current ordinance in Chapter 11, Article VIII, regarding soliciting. The Board also addressed drafting a law to address issues involving indecent behavior and approved a reallocation of $491,000 to the Leon County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO) for two new officer positions.
Ultimately, Chair Bill Proctor’s motion to repeal and amend the current ordinance, draft a new ordinance and allocate funds for the HOST deputy positions passed in a 4-3 vote. Commissioners Maddox, Dozier, and Jimbo Jackson were in opposition. Commissioner Proctor, Welch, Minor, and Cummings voted for the changes.
Recently, Leon County has received increased complaints regarding individuals obstructing, camping, soliciting, and exhibiting indecent behavior, such as defecating/urinating in public areas. In most cases, the complaints involve individuals experiencing homelessness.
Chapter 11, Article VIII of the Code of Laws of Leon County currently prohibits soliciting in/on the median of any street within Leon County. Additionally, another ordinance in Chapter 13 prohibits soliciting in county parks. However, the only mention of sleeping or camping in public areas is in Chapter 13, where camping is defined as “temporary stays for recreational purposes.”
There are currently no regulations for the acts of public urination and defecation in the Leon County Code of Laws.
The situation is complicated by recent case law that has changed how the courts evaluate the constitutionality of local ordinances involving solicitation. Recently, federal courts have ruled that a solicitation is a form of constitutionally protected free speech, which poses a significant problem for any legislation to ban or otherwise limit this kind of behavior.
As a result, the LCSO has determined that it will not enforce current ordinances in cases where existing state and local laws do not provide law enforcement agencies with adequate legal authority.
County Administrator Vincent Long stressed to the Board that the issues being discussed have become a significant problem in larger cities nationally and are becoming a greater issue locally.
“As it stands now, on any street in Leon County, you can put up a tent permanently and sleep there. On any residential, city, or county street, and there is absolutely nothing we can do about it,” Long emphasized. He said by drafting an ordinance, you have at least the option to deal with the conduct from a regulatory standpoint, even as a last resort. He added that the county can always offer its services first and foremost.
The amendment to the current ordinance will alter it so that it is more consistent with recent federal cases. In addition, the county will draft an ordinance to address the individuals who are camping and urinating/defecating in public areas. The new law would ensure the safety of individuals experiencing homelessness and protect those citizens near the situation.
The county made it clear that the new ordinances are not intended to criminalize those persons for being homeless but set precedence for conduct.
Commissioner Carolyn Cummings stated the county needs to have an ordinance and that they would be “derelict as elected officials” if they ignored the option to do so. Cummings asserted an ordinance would give the community notice and grant the county a procedure to handle these situations with dignity while protecting the citizens.
However, Commissioners Kristin Dozier and Nick Maddox were against drafting any ordinances before allowing the LSCO to take action with two new Homelessness Outreach Street Team (HOST) deputies to see what kind of response they may have.
The $491,000 approved for the HOST deputy positions will be reallocated from the county’s disbursement of Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery Funds to the LCSO’s budget. The funds will support two HOST deputies, whose responsibilities are to connect individuals to available housing services.
The personnel and operating expenses are estimated to be around $80,000 for the remainder of 2022 and then $100,000 for 2023. The first-year costs also include initial capital assets, including a vehicle, radio, and equipment totaling $67,000 per position.