City to stop criminally charging people for sleeping outdoors when shelter is full; Agreement resolves legal battle over city’s ordinances which effectively criminalized homelessness, leading to hundreds of criminal prosecutions
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – June 21, 2017
CONTACT: ACLU of Florida Media Office, firstname.lastname@example.org, (786) 363-2737
SARASOTA, FL – An agreement has been reached between the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida and the City of Sarasota, effectively resolving a long legal dispute regarding the treatment of homeless persons by Sarasota police and the city’s ban on sleeping outdoors.
The ACLU of Florida’s Sarasota Chapter sued the City of Sarasota in 2015 on behalf of six homeless individuals, arguing that city ordinances which “criminalize the status of those who are homeless” resulted in hundreds of criminal prosecutions against homeless people for sleeping outside in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s protections against cruel and unusual punishment.
The parties’ joint stipulation, which the U.S. District Court approved today, will require the city to provide access to beds, as opposed to mats on the floor, to persons without shelter, and to do so in a way that does not discriminate. If there are no available beds at the Sarasota Salvation Army – the one shelter in the city which currently has facilities that meet the standards agreed to in the joint stipulation – the city agrees not to enforce the ordinances challenged in the lawsuit.
“This is a win for the rights and dignity of homeless people in Sarasota,” stated ACLU of Florida board vice president Michael Barfield. “Punishing people for basic acts of survival while homeless hasn’t made our community safer, nor does it address the root causes of homelessness in the city. With this agreement in place, the neediest members of our community no longer need to fear criminal prosecution for simply being without a roof over their head.”
The agreement includes the payment of monetary damages to the named plaintiffs in the case and allows the district court to retain jurisdiction to enforce the terms of the stipulation.
“People do not lose the protections of the constitution simply because they are homeless,” stated ACLU of Florida legal director Nancy Abudu. “We are pleased to have reached this agreement, the enforcement of which will see that nobody is unworthy of the protection of our laws.”
A copy of the joint stipulation is available here: https://live-aclu-florida.pantheonsite.io/sites/default/files/field_documents/joint_stip_doc._70.pdf
More information about the lawsuit, initially filed in state court in 2015, is available here: https://live-aclu-florida.pantheonsite.io/en/press-releases/aclu-files-lawsuit-challenging-laws-targeting-homeless-sarasota