Lamar: Criminalizing Unhoused People Not the Answer

Joey Lamar, a candidate for Leon County Commission District 3 rejects the proposed ordinance criminalizing houselessness in an op-ed.

// February 8, 2022,

1:04 am

Updated:February 12, 2022


Joey Lamar, candidate for Leon County Commission

Criminalizing unhoused people will not fix this severe problem. The power from the stroke of a pen has tried many times and failed each time. 

I assure our commissioners there is no person without a home waiting on pins and needles to see what the Commission County decides, neither are they discussing it before they lay their head on a cold slab of concrete.

You fix a humanitarian crisis with humanitarian services. You solve the problem by providing housing, more case managers, and a fundamental philosophy change to our services approach.

Build housing and work with people who receive government resources to pay rent. The result is an increase in mental health for homeless people. Most of us have never been without a bed to lay our heads on, so it is hard to understand the aggregate mental effect of having basic needs unfulfilled. Even simple things, like putting down a bag and knowing it will be there when you return make a difference. There is an aggregate effect to not having basic needs met we cannot ignore. Providing housing is the first step to ease the anxiety.

We need to hire more case managers. Currently, the city and county do not have enough case managers to give people the individualized attention they need.

Lake Ella is a public park in District 3 that some business owners have complained has been home to some houseless people during the pandemic.

Tallahassee provides the best services in the North Florida area, which is people flock to the area. Right now, the approach is if a person desires help, they come to us and we serve them. Let’s flip this approach. Let’s go out and talk with citizens who need help. If the people who need help are not receiving it, the services are not reaching their full potential.

Before passing an ordinance, we must ask ourselves: Did we put forth the necessary resources to fix this pressing issue in our community? This answer will be an unequivocal no. We must invest in housing, hire more case managers and change our approach to dealing with people who do not have a place to live. Where we put our money, there to we find our heart’s desires.

Aside from punishing someone for being homeless, this proposal incentivizes those in need of housing to fill our already overpopulated jails during an ongoing pandemic when many are not vaccinated. It is a bad idea to assess a $500 penalty and/or six months in jail per violation for asking for money in a public areas or public right-of-way. Most of these fines likely end up in a mailbox where the person does not live because they are homeless. So then the fine reaches delinquent status and the next time they are stopped by a police officer they are jailed for not paying the past due fine. It’s a vicious and cruel cycle.

As we are in the dead of winter, it is conceivable how someone with nowhere to sleep and no food could rationalize purposely committing this crime to have a place to stay for two months and receive three meals a day. Time in jail is free to the person but costs the taxpayers money.

The other penalty – $15 fine for holding a sign that requests money – creates the same problem. Another fine is unlikely to be paid and results in more trips to jail.

I commend the County on proposing a solution to a problem – which is beyond out of control – but we need the right decision. I strongly urge the Commission to give my fresh ideas an objective look.

Joey Lamar is a candidate for Leon County Commission, District 3. Lamar is running against incumbent Rick Minor, a seat he has held since 2018. You can learn more about Lamar’s campaign at helpjoeywin.org

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