Every winter, Key West sees a large increase in its homeless population and the call for action takes on a more desperate tone. The city often claims it is unfairly burdened by vagrants who panhandle on the streets and sleep on the beaches. The same sunny weather that drives the crucial winter tourism rush also attracts an inordinate number of homeless from the snow-blown streets of northern cities.
The city made major efforts in the last year to push the homeless from public areas, including the city's last stretches of wetlands, but has run up against a wall. A no-panhandling law went into effect for the Duval Street strip and Mallory Square, severing a main source of sustenance for homeless and leading to a number of arrests. Though the panhandling ban may be considered a success, a new law banning homeless from camping in wetlands has gathered dust for months. The city cannot enforce the ban, which would effectively eliminate the last safe area for the homeless, without risking a major lawsuit. Miami and Orlando have both been sued for barring the homeless from life-sustaining activities such as sleeping in public. The courts ruled in favor of plaintiffs who argued that the cities must provide an alternative for homeless that are roused from sleep.
So the city has been struggling to create a "Safe Zone" where the homeless could go and not be bothered by authorities. Such camps are not popular with the public and few are willing to allow one in their neighborhood.
The road ahead will likely be long and difficult, as it has been for years.
Travis James Tritten, Solutions to homeless problem hard to find, KeyNews.com, http://www.livableoldtown.com/solution_to_homeless.htm.