Homeless and cold

Florida Ordinance Makes It Illegal For Homeless To Use Blankets

Posted by Austin Petersen • 07 Feb 2014

Being Homeless Is Not A Crime

By Father Nathan Monk

PENSACOLA, FL - Living in Florida, we don’t often have the opportunity to use the heat setting on our thermostat, but this winter we got the chance in a big way. And as a matter of fact, so many people in my neighborhood were using heaters that it blew out the transformer.

So there I was with my wife and three kids, all of us huddled under blankets with the fireplace roaring, watching the temperature continue to drop from a comfortable 65 degrees down to 45. But outside it was 17 degrees and raining and sleeting, and if you were homeless, you had to consider that if you used a blanket to shield yourself from the elements, that you might be hauled off to jail for a violation of a local ordinance prohibiting using blankets, cardboard, or newspaper to cover yourself.

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This was part of a series of ordinances which prohibited using public restrooms for washing your face, panhandling, and “camping”. Though the mayor’s office and members of the city council tried to say that these ordinances were not targeted at the homeless, email correspondence between them and other city officials proved otherwise.

The anti-camping ordinance went the furthest in its limitation of basic civil liberties, making it essentially illegal, not only to cover yourself for any reason, but also effectively making it illegal to be homeless. It was a tough ordinance to fight, because if you opposed them, it gave the impression that you were supporting blight in the city. Not to mention the city council wasn’t interested in having the discussion. The then council president either would cut people off or have them thrown out during the public discussion.

The ordinances were passed, in spite of the public outcry.

One of the arguments that was constantly used during the limited debate about the ordinances, was that there was a “silent majority” that wanted to see these laws passed. So these people didn’t show up to the meetings or send emails that could be presented as part of the public record. Instead, they might have stopped a council person on the streets, so they claimed it had more weight than the hundreds of folks in the council chambers in protest. I decided to see how true this supposed silent majority was.

I started a petition, and within a day we had nearly 1,000 signatures opposing the ordinance. People began to ask the question, “Could this ordinance be used on me, or just the homeless?” And the answer from the legal staff of the city is that yes, this law was applicable to anyone who used a blanket or news paper to cover themselves in public. Even if you got stuck in a city park because it was raining and you tried to shield yourself, you would technically be in violation of this ordinance and subject to arrest. So would your wife and child if they laid down with a blanket at a picnic or festival.


The mayor quickly attempted to distance himself from the ordinances, placing blame on the council, even though it has been proven time and again that the memos came directly from his office, at his request. Then the mayor tried to downplay the concern of people saying that there was enough shelter, and that “no one was taking blankets away from the homeless.” But the problem is that the mayor was answering questions no one was asking, directed at accusations no one made. The issue is not that the mayor was taking away people’s blankets, because honestly that would be a violation of the illegal search and seizure clause in the constitution, but rather that someone could be arrested simply for being homeless.

The argument that there are shelters open and that they should just go there, showed exactly why the mayor shouldn’t be making policy about things which he doesn’t understand. Not only are there not enough shelter beds for everyone within the city limits, there is not even a shelter within the city limits for them to go to. If someone was to seek shelter, they would have to go into the county and have a valid ID. Not to mention that many folks don’t qualify for shelters for other reasons and many won’t patronize them because they are veterans who suffer from PTSD.

The major shelter in town only allows for people to stay three days a month, unless they join their drug rehabilitation and Christian indoctrination program. This is the only solution the city is willing to put forward. No matter if someone ends up on the streets due to bad decision, disability, a poor economy, or if they simply just prefer living outside to dealing with the trappings of the modern life, it should go without saying that they have an absolute right to cover themselves with a blanket.

The idea that something as basic as covering oneself from the elements could land them in jail is just about as far away from the founding documents as it gets. Then again, it is easy to pick on people that don’t have a voice. But as the poem goes, “and then they came for me.” To help fight the ordinance visit the change.org petition here:


Father Nathan Monk lives in Pensacola, Florida and studied Theology at Holy Resurrection Orthodox Seminary.

  • Fiat Illusionaire

    A society is only as rich as its poorest citizen.

  • Guy Anthony

    Every legislator who voted for this ordinance should be stripped naked
    and thrown out into sub zero temperatures to die a horrible, painful
    freezing death.
    YES, —– I’m dead serious.
    I would take
    personal pleasure in standing there taunting them as their miserable
    lives slipped away. I’m getting sick of this shit.

  • Kirsten

    I along with my boyfriend and two friends we met are currently homeless and it has been hard for us. We constantly move around to avoid detection by the law. On multiple occasions my boyfriend and I have been shook down by the cops and searched because of how bad we look at times. When they question us we always say we just got off work. During the day time my boyfriend tries to get work while I attend school. Most people are amazed when we tell them our situation and things we are doing to survive. More than twice we have dumpster dived for food, we only get things that are in a trash bag away from other things. We have gotten it down to a schedule of when different places through out food. At times it can be so hard for us to make it through the day, that we are ready to just give up. We all make it through each day by helping each other the best we can. If one couple finds food and the other doesn’t we share the goods. It’s scary at night time though. If you are not careful the cops will get you simply for walking around at night. We give a fake address so that they leave us alone but if one figures it out, then we are going to jail. Then when we find a place to hide, we cannot see in the pitch black, and we have to try to be as careful as we can not to get hurt. We constantly move locations so that nobody can figure out what we are doing. Our tent we have is destroyed and floods when it rains but there is really nothing we can do. We have to eat and if no one in the group gets work that day we either starve or dumpster dive. We often hide out nights and sometimes in the day time as well. These ordinances have made being homeless even worse than it already is. I do not think that the people who passed these ordinances have ever been homeless a single day in their lives. They obviously have not put into consideration how it will affect us.

  • SickOf BeingCoddled

    I live in Maine, Tell me where to send a gift of fifty blankets, and as a bonus a pillow for everyone!!! I am serious . Pensacola needs all of yo on here to go get nomination papers and take back your city!!

  • SickOf BeingCoddled

    the members of this city that voted for this ordinance will have to answer to their maker. Is there no end to how uncivilized people can become. God help the needy and have MINIMAL mercy on the souls of those with Dark hearts

  • ImTheMomInTheSilverMazda

    I’m past thinking it’s wrong to just sit here for five minutes and hope this Mayor keels over from Nuclear Dystentary,

  • Feeley Vee

    I am boycotting Florida and Arizona for life. Screw these miserable places.

  • http://www.survivingurbancrisis.com/ Silas Longshot

    FL cops have ‘raided’ homeless areas many times before, destroying private property of the homeless, cutting up their tents and DARING them to protest or lift a finger to keep it from happening.

    • Kirsten

      That happens a lot

  • BryanCooper


  • Joy Lynskey

    If I ever see anyone tearing a blanket off of a homeless person, I’m getting involved.

  • Eddie

    I think these so called lawmakers should have to spend 30 days in the streets in the elements and see how well they survive. No money, no clothes, no clean laundry service, no car, no shelter, and NO BLANKETS! I bet they would change their attitudes…I wish every single one of them to become homeless!

  • Matheus Grunt

    Those who are homeless who want to be helped and want to stay warm should be able to. This ordinance is an unconstitutional code & nobody is obliged to obey it.

  • rod

    Newspaper, or cardboard, I might be able to understand, since they would lose their usefulness fairly quickly, and get discarded, causing more trash in the streets. What is wrong with using a blanket, though, to try to be more comfortable?

  • Phil Petain

    Whine away, stupid fuc king liberals.

    They ought to pay $50 for the scalps of homeless bums.

    • Reverend Draco

      Are you volunteering to be first, ya bum?

    • Kirsten

      that is just wrong. there are women and children along with men that are homeless. do you think they should pay $50 for the scalp of a pregnant homeless girl? you honestly just don’t get it, do you.

  • Jimmy NoChit

    Is a poncho a blanket with a hole in it, or is a blanket with a hole in it, a blanket with a hole in it?

  • Reverend Draco

    Since there have been “hate crime” laws passed, outlawing the demonizing of not-white people and gays – “Domicilism” is the last (perhaps I should say, “latest”) bastion of the terminally ignorant and chronically fearful.

    No longer can a person legally be demonized for the not-white color of their skin, or their “gender identity” – but harassing them based on their domicile or lack thereof is fair game.

    I like the idea I’ve seen many people here promote – everyone who is against this counterfeit law should wear a blanket over their shoulders, a cardboard codpiece, and a newspaper hat when they go out in public.

    Better yet, when they come across some clown-costumed thug harassing someone covered with a blanket – jack them without mercy – the same mercy they’re showing the homeless.

  • Dave

    Ahhh, more Republican Liberty at work…..

  • lunchbox87

    Do it get arrested and just get to spend the night in a warm jail cell

  • David Guerra

    On the one hand it’s intolerable that there could be people with the authority to tell others that they can’t wear or carry a particular garment or piece of cloth. On the other, though, I’m not sure I would mind going to jail if I was freezing outside. The logical action a “law and order” agent should enforce though, to be worthy of such designation, would be to approach the blanketed person and offer him/her accomodation somewhere, not to forcibly take him/her.

  • Rachel Louise Spenader

    I see nothing from this article to be appealing.

  • Kaptain K

    quick way to change all of this. Make a public outcry that requires anyone in favor of this form of legislation be required to be completely homeless for a period of no less than 1 month. And subject to all applicable laws.

    …In Minnesota, or somewhere else equally cold. See how quick they change their minds.

    This is why laws should never be made by people not affected by them.

  • http://www.freewebs.com/angelsofhope2008 Dave M.

    When the law is stupid or evil, people have both the right, and obligation, to break it. Just ask Thomas Jefferson.

  • Sandsto7

    I would let them haul me to jail where I’d get a blanket, a cot, and a free meal in a temperature controlled room. It still doesn’t make the law right, though.

  • Lisa J

    This ordinance is utterly reprehensible. I have gone out of my way at times to get an extra blanket for someone — and sometimes some hot soup and hot chocolate for these less fortunate people. As a nation we send tons of money to other countries in aid, and yet in our country, we turn our backs on the less-fortunate and brand them as criminals????? I am appalled…

  • Teri

    Barbaric and inhumane. wow.

  • Cally Trask

    Why don’t they get really serious about eliminating undesirables in their town and ban all public restrooms. I’d love to see it! If I lived in the town I’d be outraged—thank God, I don’t. The citizens should be up in arms though. After working all week long, if someone wants to go lay down at the park on a blanket or God forbid have a picnic, they shouldn’t be hassled. If someone wants to protect half of their face by covering it to avoid skin cancer from the rays of the sun–again, this should NOT be illegal. Would a towel constitute being a blanket? I guess that a hat or other articles of clothing are their only option now.

  • Nancy Keeler

    Throw the council members out in the cold…naked.

  • cos seven

    how do politicians stay alive?

  • Cat L

    Gotta love those “humane” republicans. ugh!

  • Judith Garrett-Bynon

    This is just cruel.

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