Pensacola, Florida
Saturday November 22nd 2014

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Outtakes 5/16/13

Mean Streets of Pensacola
By Rick Outzen

In 2009, Orlando was named the “meanest city” by National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty and the National Coalition for the Homeless in regard to how it treats its homeless population by laws and government.

Orlando is the city that provided the template, Pensacola City Manager Bill Reynolds told the city council, for Mayor Ashton Hayward’s ordinances attacking homelessness in downtown Pensacola.

I thought being the “upside of Florida” meant we were striving to be better than the rest of the state, not meaner.

Hayward claimed that his proposed ordinances “promote the aesthetics, sanitation, public health and safety of its citizens.” Reynolds pointed out that the Orlando ordinances have withstood court challenges, which was good enough for the majority of the council to favor forwarding the local proposals on to a second reading.

When the council makes the ordinances law on May 23, the poor and homeless will no longer inconvenience the mayor, his staff and the council. The vote will be another victory for “Pixie Politics”—the whitewashing of an issue without really dealing with it.

The city of Pensacola budgeted in 2008 $100,000 for outside agencies, like United Way, American Red Cross and Bay Area Food Bank, to provide services to citizens living in poverty.  In his FY 2013 budget, Hayward earmarked nothing.

Instead the mayor spent nearly half a million dollars last year creating a new logo, slogan and promoting the city—more than the city spent in total on the homeless and poor over the previous eight years.  He also got the Pensacola City Council to approve for this fiscal year a million-dollar economic development fund—even though the Greater Pensacola Chamber’s Vision 2015 had already established such a fund.

To outlaw homelessness without funding solutions is unconscionable. Hayward and his team need to do more than simply pass laws and celebrate their victory.

Former banker Rick Dye, who heads FaithWorks InterFaith Ministries Network, tried to get Council President P.C. Wu to understand the callousness of the city’s actions in an email.

“The same community leadership who tells homeless people that they can not sleep in the City’s woods needs to also provide some leadership as to helping those same homeless who are up rooted with some indoor housing options as to where they can sleep at night when they have little or no income, having medical and mental issues, addictions and antisocial personality disorders,” wrote Dye. “Simple political, expedient solutions never work on complex human problems.”

Amen.