OCALA, Fla. (WCJB) – UPDATE 12/16 5PM -
Ocala has been named one of the worst cities for homelessness by the organization, the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, sighting what they're saying are Ocala's strict anti-homeless ordinances.
One of the ordinances the report addresses is the "Trespass and Unlawful Lodging" ordinance.
The ordinance states, that those who identify as homeless may not sleep or rest on private property, or under any structure without the permission of the owner.
Public property, including government buildings, parks, sidewalks, or benches are also off-limits to the homeless who intend to sleep.
However, merely sleeping in a place is not enough for a citation or an arrest, the ordinance also states.
There must be one or more indications of lodging, such as a tent or sleeping bag.
TV20 reported on the controversial ordinance in September when the American Civil Liberties Union, as well as two other groups, filed a lawsuit against the city.
"We don't think that people should be sleeping outside either but the solution is not putting people in jail, the solution is addressing why people are homeless and why people can't afford housing,” Kirsten Anderson of Southern Legal Counsel told TV20 in September.
"They're not the only citizens. We have citizens that are property owners and just do not want to see people just doing whatever they want, where they want and tolerate lawlessness, and the city isn't going to have the money to take care of them,” said Ocala City Attorney, Patrick Gilligan, in September.
The Marketing and Communications Manager for the City of Ocala, Ashley Dobbs, was not able to meet with TV20 on this continued issue but sent us this statement:
“As stated in the report, the city of Ocala municipal government is currently involved in a federal lawsuit and, as such, we are unable to address specifics until its completion. As a community, Ocala is lucky to have many programs and non-profits in place to help those who are in need of assistance. In our role as a local government, the City of Ocala is committed to and has programs in place to encourage and support the development of much needed affordable housing. Currently, there are two such developments planned for the upcoming year.”
Ocala is just one of the many cities around the country to prohibit sleeping in public, which the report says has gone up 50 percent since 2006.
Both Sacramento and Redding California, Kansas City Missouri, Wilmington Delaware and the entire state of Texas also made the list.
The city of Ocala has made a national "hall of shame" list.
The report criticizes Ocala's policing practices, particularly the "operation street sweeper." The police banned homeless people from sleeping in public places.
In 2004, Gainesville was rated one of the "meanest cities in America" toward the homeless, which led to millions of dollars spent on trying to help them since then.