Proposed ordinance in Atlantic Beach would prohibit sleeping, camping in public places

The city of Atlantic Beach could soon “lawfully prevent” homeless people from sleeping and camping in public places.

On Monday night, the City Commission met for a first reading to talk about the proposed ordinance that includes updates to the current one in place.

Language in the proposed legislation was expanded from just “loitering” to camping, sleeping and lodging in public. City leaders say the new language is consistent with current case law.

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The city also wanted to include a focus on letting homeless people know about the services available to them.

Action News Jax spoke with Mayor Glasser of Atlantic Beach.

“The why behind it is to find a balance in terms of public safety,” said Glasser. “That would be for the safety of people that are in the unfortunate predicament of not having a home and living on the streets, and the people that encounter them in urban areas.”

Glasser said there is a national crisis with homelessness.

“We passed on our first reading last night, an ordinance really related to this idea of urban camping by homeless people where they’re living on the street,” Glasser said. “The takeaway for us was to offer them services, because we’re not going to arrest somebody just because they’re homeless.”

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If the legislation is passed, a police officer would be required to first notify the individual of emergency shelters available, including transportation by an officer to that site.

Not complying after a warning could lead to an arrest.

Michaele McAvoy is the interim Executive Director for Mission House in Jacksonville Beach. She says that just puts up more barriers.

Mission House is the only homeless service provider in the Beaches area.

“People aren’t going to be able to get a job or get housing, because they have an arrest for sleeping on the beach when they couldn’t get into a shelter,” said McAvoy. “It doesn’t make sense.”

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McAvoy said the proposed ordinance doesn’t address the need for housing.

“I hope they also look at what are the solutions to homelessness,” said McAvoy. “Not what’s the solution, so we don’t see people sleeping on the beach.”

Mission House is a day facility that provides meal access, shower access, clothing, toiletries and case management. There is also a free clinic for uninsured low-income adults in Duval County.

“We’re kind of a starting point for people in that safety net,” McAvoy said. “So that they know that we’re here, and they can come to us and we can help direct them to housing services, employment, education and whatever their needs are to address that homelessness.”

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The first reading of the proposal passed Monday night.

City leaders said the next vote will likely come on Nov. 28 at the commission meeting.

“This is not about trying to criminalize the homeless or to arrest our way out of this problem,” Glasser said. It’s simply to get all the tools together to try to deal with it in a more holistic way.”

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