Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

City's Homeless Given Option: Shelter or Jail

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

City's Homeless Given Option: Shelter or Jail

Article excerpt

The night air was cold, but John Stapleton was content.

A Jacksonville native who lives on the streets, he says sleeping

outside suits him and he thinks it ought to be his right.

"I'd rather sleep outside than the shelter because you get up

when you get ready," said Stapleton, a 32-year-old with a

10th-grade education. He wore a sweater and hat but no coat one

frosty February night.

"I think a person should have a choice, as long as they're not

destructive, not tearing up nothing," he said.

He won't have that choice much longer. Now that the I.M.

Sulzbacher Center for the Homeless is open, the Jacksonville

Sheriff's Office says it won't tolerate sleeping on the streets.

Folks found in parks and on benches will have two options: a

homeless center or the jail.

Police said they won't arrest people if shelters are full.

"We're not going to be seeking arrests," said Assistant Chief

Bobby Drummond. "We're going to seek redirectment."

In 1994, the City Council passed ordinances banning sleeping in

public places, bathing in public fountains, panhandling and

other activities often associated with the homeless.

The ordinances weren't enforced before the Sulzbacher Center

opened. Police said this week that a crackdown on the homeless

could begin within days.

Officers on each shift of Zone 3, which includes parts of

downtown and the Northside, will begin taking homeless people

off the streets.

"It'll be an organized effort that will take place on each

shift, on and off during the day," Drummond said. Officers from

other zones may also enforce the ordinances, but "Zone 3 will

probably be more involved than other zones," because that's

where the most homeless people are, he added.

The Emergency Services and Homeless Coalition took a census of

the homeless this week and counted about 2,400 homeless people

in Jacksonville. Last year's census was 1,940.

The initiative to clear the streets was spurred by concerns from

merchants, among them that people won't come downtown to shop if

they're afraid of vagrants, Drummond said. …

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