Anne Sewell

Despite unusually cold and freezing conditions, along with a state of emergency weather alert recently, Pensacola, Fla., is upholding its ban against people sleeping outside with a tent, blankets or newspapers covering them to keep them warm.

Reportedly, the so-called “camping” ordinance was passed last summer, because it was said that “camping” is a threat to public health, safety and sanitation. Never mind the blight it places on Pensacola’s pretty appearance, of course.

So the Pensacola City Council enacted the ban, but apparently, due to mounting criticism, Mayor Ashton Hayward has had a change of heart, and it is possible that there may be an amendment to this ordinance this week. However, as the council voted 6 to 3 in favor of the idea last summer, it might not be much of a change.

What the ordinance actually says is that a person may not be "adjacent to or inside a tent or sleeping bag, or atop and/or covered by materials such as a bedroll, cardboard, newspapers, or inside some form of temporary shelter."

Trouble is, right now, along with a huge swathe of America, the area is suffering from unusually cold weather. One Councilwoman, Sherri F. Meyers, has been against the ordinance all along and in January came up with a new proposal to “amend the controversial ‘camping’ ordinance to allow for cover, including blankets, sleeping bags and bedding materials.”

However, this proposal was blocked by one of the more staunch supporters of the camping ban, Council President Jewel Cannada-Wynn.

Jeremy Bosso, who is a lab technical director at West Florida University’s Wetlands Research Laboratory, has been vocal about the legislation. He writes political blogs on his own website and compared a recent local news warning about bringing pets inside during cold temperatures to the fact that the city of Pensacola treats homeless humans in a very different way.

Asking for a lift on the prohibition against blankets in public, he said, “I think we should extend that courtesy to our fellow humans. I mean, we do it for the animals, and I think we should respect life at all stages.”

According to Bosso, “the proposed ordinance to end the blanket ban will be brought to a vote at the Feb. 13, 2014, Council meeting at Pensacola City Hall.”

A petition has even been started on to repeal the ordinance. The petition starts with the following paragraph:

For the first time in recent memory, parts of Florida will be under a state of emergency due to winter weather. Beginning tomorrow, temperatures will drop as freezing rain and sleet move in, roadways will become icy, and snowfall is expected. All of this will happen on top of already wet ground, due to rain happening throughout the day today.

The wording carries on to say that as the “extreme freeze comes into the panhandle, it will be illegal for the homeless to seek shelter from the cold.”

At present, the petition has almost 12,000 signatures and hopes to make a difference in the City Council’s upcoming decision Feb. 13.


New York Times Blogs

RT Petition