‘It’s Getting Worse and Worse’: Homeless Hot Spots Increasingly Frustrate Fort Lauderdale Residents

By: Alex Trent | Published: Apr 29, 2024

Residents and business owners in Fort Lauderdale Florida are getting fed up around the city’s homelessness crisis, complaining that it is hurting their livelihoods and businesses.

A new Florida state law is set to go into effect in October that will ban homeless people from sleeping in public, but a current case in the Supreme Court may threaten its enforceability depending on how the court rules.

Mini-California

Bernie Bedor, who owns a business in north Fort Lauderdale, has been writing consistent emails hoping city officials will do something about the homelessness problem.

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A series of boats are seen as the sun sets in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Source: Sharon Hahn Darlin/Wikimedia

“We take investors down to the beach and they see homeless people in tents,” Bedor told the South Florida Sun Sentinel. “No one wants to invest in a mini-California. There’s a tent city next to the new police station they’re building. You have people going to the bathroom on the sidewalk. It’s like a free for all. And it’s very bad for business.”

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Worse and Worse

Bedor is frustrated that the homeless crisis in Fort Lauderdale is making it difficult for residents to afford the cost of doing business.

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A man wears a security vest while watching property.

Source: Rayner Simpson/Unsplash

“It’s getting worse and worse and worse here in Fort Lauderdale,” Bedor said. “It’s not that we’re not empathetic. But it’s to the point now where we’re having to pay $30,000 a year for private security to patrol our buildings at night. That cost is being passed on to the business owners.”

Hurting Business

Local real estate agent Charlie King shared photos with the Sun Sentinel he had taken of a nude homeless man peering into a home window, including one taken where the man is in front of one of King’s “For Sale” signs.

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A street near the beach in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Source: Infrogmation of New Orleans/Wikimedia

“It’s embarrassing to have this going on in the city,” said King, a longtime critic of homelessness in Fort Lauderdale. “It hurts business. It makes people not want to live in Fort Lauderdale.”

Lewd Acts

King also had photos of people walking along the beach while only barely dressed, as well as one of a man defecating on a sidewalk in the middle of the day.

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An aerial view of a beach where the ocean meets the sand.

Source: Noah Boyer/Unsplash

“I saw a homeless couple having sex at the bus stop at Federal Highway and Commercial Boulevard,” King said. “No one wants to see this in the middle of our town.”

Government Response

The Mayor of Fort Lauderdale Dean Trantalis has been working to come up with a solution that would work for both residents and the homeless, but progress has been slow going.

Navy ships seen landing in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Source: Santos Huante/Wikimedia

“We’re doing our best,” Trantalis said. “The problem we have is finding a shelter for homeless people. And we rely on the county to provide that. We do not have enough shelter to house homeless people.”

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Ticking Clock

The new Florida law signed by Governor DeSantis in March that would ban people from sleeping on sidewalks, parks, and other public spaces has started a ticking clock for Fort Lauderdale officials to figure out a solution.

Governor Ron DeSantis is speaking at a podium, wearing a dark suit with a striped tie. He is seen in profile against a dark, curtained background

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Once the new state law kicks in, authorities in Fort Lauderdale will be forced to act to curb people sleeping outdoors and will need a proper plan in place for how the city will deal with the homeless gatherings.

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US Supreme Court

Currently, the United States Supreme Court is hearing a case from a town in Oregon that banned people from sleeping on public land. The law was stopped due to an amendment challenge that asserted the ordinance constituted “cruel and unusual punishment” and violated the US Constitution.

The facade of the United States Supreme Court Building is shown in bright daylight

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The court, if it gives a ruling, could create a legal precedent that would decide for the country whether cities and other entities would be allowed to penalize or criminalize homelessness under their laws.

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Hands Tied

While some residents and business owners would like to have laws in Fort Lauderdale criminalizing homeless activities, officials say that the recent court rulings have tied their hands on the issue.

A view of the beachfront facing the ocean in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Source: Infrogmation of New Orleans/Wikimedia

“We really won’t know if sleeping on the sidewalk is against the law until we get the ruling from the Supreme Court,” Commissioner John Herbst said. “When they hand down the Grants Pass ruling, then we’ll know whether the state law is legitimate or not. We’re waiting for the Supreme Court. But even after that we have to have a place to put them. And Fort Lauderdale can’t be the only place.”

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City Ideas

One idea that has been floated previously was to open the county stockade near Chase Stadium to house the homeless population, though some are concerned with the impact on nearby neighborhoods.

The Chase Stadium located in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Source: TheSoccerBoy/Wikimedia

“We can’t bury our heads in the sand and say, ‘No, we can’t consider it,’” Commissioner Herbst said. “Personally, I think it’s better than sleeping on a park bench. In fact, right now I’m sitting in front of the stockade and looking at the barbed wire. But I’d prefer to be in a safe environment with barbed wire than being out there on the street.”

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People Fleeing San Francisco

Herbst feels that the city cannot just stand by and do nothing. He recalled a trip he took to San Francisco and was appalled by the way the city has changed due to the homelessness crisis.

A row of tents and makeshift shelters lines a San Francisco sidewalk, surrounded by various personal items and bicycles. Blue and gray recycling and garbage bins are positioned in front of the tents, with graffiti visible on the bins

Source: Wikimedia Commons

“As I walked down the street, I saw people defecating on the street,” said Herbst. “They had tents up. There were piles of trash everywhere. It has taken one of the greatest cities in the country and made it uninhabitable. People are fleeing San Francisco.”

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Praying for Things to Turn Around

Brenda Bertnoli, owner of a strip center near a county library, has had to hire private security just to protect tenants and property from incidents with the homeless population who has moved in there. Bertnoli hopes the new Florida law can turn things around.

A man skateboards near a beach in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Source: Alex Azabache/Unsplash

“I pray that [the law] does,” Bertnoli said. “We have tents everywhere, on the beach and downtown. We’re becoming a mini-San Francisco.”

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