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Florida Proposes Using Ballparks and Stadiums as Homeless Shelters

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Mac Slavo
January 27, 2012

As more Americans than ever before join the ranks of the unemployed, and with insurance benefits starting to dry up for many who have exceeded the 99 week maximum, homelessness across the country is quickly becoming an issue that can no longer be glazed over by politicians.

There are over 3.5 million people officially listed as homeless in America, and with tent cities popping up all over the country as a result of foreclosures or inability to pay rent, the trend, like the rising number of food stamp participants (48.5 Million) and those living on the edge of poverty (100 million), is not abating. In fact, as the economic health of the United States further degrades, we can expect to see homelessness rise at a record pace. Most Americans are just a paycheck away from disaster, and once that income stops coming, there is no alternative except to join the millions already living on the streets.

There is, however, some light at the end of the tunnel, at least for those living in Florida, where legislators may have come up with novel solution for sheltering those without homes:

Back in 1988, Florida legislators passed a law that would allow sports stadiums to collect about $2 million per year from the government to build new shiny stadiums that would increase economic investment and improve the quality of life.

Tucked into the statutes is an obscure homeless shelter provision, which has mostly been ignored for 23 years, and could be a $300 million “Oops” for stadiums, arenas and spring training facilities across the state.

The law states that sports teams that accept taxpayer dollars to build facilities must house the homeless on off-nights, and lawmakers have brought it back from the dead in a pair of bills gaining steam this legislative session.

Senate Bill 816, which would make teams and stadium owners return millions of taxpayer dollars if they can’t prove that they’ve been operating as a haven for the homeless on non-event nights,  passed its first committee in the Senate on Monday with a unanimous vote.

There was some charged language aimed at taxpayer-supported sports franchises during the hearing:

“We have spent over $300 million supporting teams that can afford to pay a guy $7, $8, $10 million a year to throw a baseball 90 feet. I think they can pay for their own stadium,”  said Sen. Michael Bennett, R-Bradenton, who is sponsoring the bill.  “I can not believe that we’re going to cut money out of Medicaid and take it away from the homeless and take it away from the poor and impoverished, and we’re continuing to support people who are billionaires.”

Source: Miami Herald

Florida reports that there are over 60,000 people living on the streets or in shelters, not counting an additional 50,000 school-age children who also don’t have homes. While it may not work well for the owners of those stadiums, since the taxpayers are the ones who paid for them it begs to reason that they can decide how to use those facilities in the 270 or so off nights per year. Given their size, it’s reasonable to suggest that the state may be able to fully house, at least for those nights that their home teams aren’t playing, the majority of those who have nowhere to go when the sun goes down.

It’s a controversial issue, yes, but with States and cities running out of money, new and innovative solutions for these growing problems will need to be considered.

We’ve got trillions of dollars to bail out bankers and citizens of other countries, perhaps we could kick a little support over to those who don’t have food to eat or a place to sleep.

We’ll see how team owners respond to the new idea, but according to ‘Duk of Yahoo Sports, we shouldn’t hold our breaths:

With this being an election year, it’s not too much of a surprise that state lawmakers might find a headline-grabbing way to show that they’re concerned about the rights of the little people. And what better target than professional sports, where exorbitant salaries and construction costs are printed in the newspaper every day?

I don’t suspect that this bill will pass, though. The rich folk behind the ballparks have way too much lobbying power. The homeless advocacy does not. It’s simple math.


This article was posted: Friday, January 27, 2012 at 4:37 am

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