Once again, blankets and other coverings are OK for use by the homeless who camp on Pensacola city property. But the debate continues over another part of the non-camping ordinance.
The City Council voted 7-1 Thursday to repeal the blanket ban. A second amendment kicking out restrictions on bathing, sleeping and other such activities in public restrooms was delayed on a 5-3 vote. Councilwoman Sherri Myers sponsored both amendments, saying the effects of the current ordinance reaches beyond the homeless. “That a citizen can’t go into a bathroom and wash up, or fix a power drink,” Myers said. “Or a parent couldn’t go into a bathroom and wash their children up. And to have an ordinance that prohibits people from being able to do what people normally do in public bathrooms is crazy.” The delay will enable a task force on homelessness to study that and other parts of the issue before reporting back to the Council sometime in the fall. Myers, along with colleagues Charles Bare and Megan Pratt, voted against the motion to delay, which was sponsored by Councilor Larry B. Johnson.Before the votes were taken, the Council heard from speakers in the audience – most of them making return appearances on behalf of the homeless. Attorney Alistair McKenzie fired another verbal salvo at the City Council, accusing it of trying to use the delay to push back the issue until after the election later this year. McKenzie repeated his contention that Pensacola does not have adequate facilities for the homeless, and said the Council clearly did not think before enacting the ordinance. “And I’d also like to hear from (Pensacola Police) Chief (Chip) Simmons, about who exactly out of these 250-plus warnings that have been issued, have they been issued to,” said McKenzie. “I guarantee you, almost every single one of those 250 warnings that have gone out, have only affected homeless people.”Simmons said McKenzie’s claim was inaccurate, that Pensacola Police have not made a single arrest or issued a single citation for any of the four ordinances that were passed last year. “I think what he was referring to was, there was a request for how many interactions we (police) have had with an individual claiming to be homeless,” said Simmons. “And there were 300-something of those, but the majority of those were on private property. But none of them dealt with the four ordinances that we’re dealing with now. The City of Pensacola will host a Community Forum on Homelessness on Wednesday, March 12 from 4-6 pm in Council Chamber. Featured speaker will be Robert Marbut, a 30-year veteran of working on homeless issues.