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Politics / Issues

Sarasota may stop homeless people from sitting and lying on sidewalks

Downtown high rise with view of street and bay.
Sarasota City Government
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The city of Sarasota is considering an ordinance that would prohibit sitting and lying on sidewalks in certain areas.

Business owners and community members complain that the homeless and panhandlers are harassing visitors downtown.

The city of Sarasota is considering prohibiting homeless people from sitting and lying down on sidewalks downtown.

The City Commission voted unanimously this week to have city staff develop a "sit lie" ordinance. The ordinance will then be debated at a public hearing.

Downtown business owners complained at Monday’s meeting about homeless people sitting and lying down near their establishments.

Commissioner Kyle Battie said the city needs to take action to deal with the issues the businesses are facing.

"I empathize, sympathize with the merchants downtown. I don't think it's fair for them to be in this situation everyday that they come to work and have to deal with this issue."

Some residents and business owners spoke in favor of the idea.

Lotus Boutique owner Harmoni Krusing Bens told the commission her customers have been yelled at by homeless people hanging out outside her store. She said this may keep some from coming back.

"This is our Achilles heel,” she said. “And I get it, we're in a city, but I think that there's more that can be done."

However, the ACLU of Florida said the ordinance is targeting the homeless.

“These types of ordinances have nothing to do with public safety,” wrote Jennifer Garrett, spokeswoman for ACLU Florida in an email. “It is intended to give police another tool to harass and remove people who appear to be homeless.

“Punishing homelessness and poverty as people continue to recover from the pandemic is simply cruel and counterproductive to helping communities bounce back,” she wrote. “The City should stop creating new ways to target people who don’t have homes and instead address the root causes of homelessness.”

City attorney Robert Fournier said while the ordinance could draw a legal challenge, other Florida cities — including St. Petersburg — have instituted similar orders.

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