Current Issue Work
J.U.S.T. Pensacola is currently working on two issues
Affordable Housing and Criminal Justice
Pensacola and Escambia are in the midst of an affordable housing crisis.
In 2022 J.U.S.T. Pensacola will be focusing on the rental housing crisis. UF estimates suggest that 62% of renters at or less than Average Median Income in Escambia County with incomes at or below AMI are cost-burdened and the problem is only getting worse.
Out of the 10 most common jobs in the Pensacola area, only one — a registered nurse — earns enough to afford a two-bedroom apartment at a fair market rate.
The average rent in Pensacola is now $1,338 for a one-bedroom apartment. This makes it difficult for laborers, retired people, and many others to be able to afford a decent place to live.
What is God's vision for housing?
For years, Escambia County’s housing crisis has been getting worse. As they ignored this problem, it got bigger.
The 8th century BCE prophet Micah declared:
Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid. Micah 4:4.
This often-repeated biblical text promises everyone a place to rest, a right to ownership, safety, and abundance (II Kings 18:31; Is. 36:16; Zech.3:10). These and other Scripture passages assert that everyone has a right to a place to call home.
J.U.S.T. Pensacola is dedicated to this vision.
Housing Campaign Progress for 2023
After extensive research, JUST Pensacola is advocating for the City of Pensacola to establish an Affordable Rental Housing Trust Fund with local public dedicated funding of at least $4.2 million annually for at least ten years. Its goal is the production and preservation of safe, decent, and affordable rental housing for households with incomes at or below 80% of the Area Median Income. This proposed Housing Trust Fund is a flexible tool that will enable strategic planning to meet the City’s current and future rental-housing priorities. This amount of money will enable the city to boldly and efficiently tackle the affordable housing rental crisis head-on building 1,000 affordable homes for our neighbors.
Adult Civil Citations
Adult Civil Citation
Explanation and Testimony
In 2019 5,198 adults were arrested for misdemeanors
These arrests were for non-violent misdemeanor, or non-felony, offenses.
Many of those adults could have been given what is called a “civil citation”. Those individuals given a citation would have to pay a program fee, participate in a crime-specific educational program and complete community service hours. Once completed, the person will be issued a certificate and no charges will be filed.
We know that 1 in 8 Floridians have had their driver’s license suspended (Fines and Fees Justice Center). Fewer than 4% of those suspensions are for serious public safety violations. The rest are suspended due to the inability to pay a fine or fee.
Suspending a person’s driver’s license does nothing to help them pay their debt. Without a driver’s license, they cannot get to work to earn the money to pay the debt. This also jeopardizes their ability to provide food and housing for their family. If they make the decision to keep driving – to get their kids to child care, buy groceries, go to work – they are risking further and more serious charges. They are left in a no-win situation. Escambia County and Pensacola city is criminalizing poverty.
We are in conversation with our State Attorney’s Office to make the adult civil citation a reality with a goal of achieving 80% usage. Without the support of the State Attorney, this program can not move forward.
What is a Civil Citation Program:
Pre-arrest diversion is defined as an early intervention and prevention alternative to arrest for low-level nonviolent offenders including individuals with substance use and/or mental health disorders. These programs provide law enforcement with an alternative to arrest in the form of a referral to a community-based provider which offers assessment, appropriate services (including substance use and mental health when needed), and fulfillment of community service requirements. This approach allows participants to avoid a formal arrest record and the collateral consequences that result from involvement in the criminal justice system.
The promise of a Civil Citation Program:
Improved public safety (real and perceived)
Reduced drug use
Lives saved lives restored
Building police-community relations
Reduced burden on criminal justice to solve public health and social challenges
Building police-public health/behavioral health relations
Correct movement of citizens into/away from the justice system
Keeping families intact
Juvenile Civil Citations
In 2021 we achieved local commitments from State attorney Bowden Madden. We got a commitment for a new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by all stakeholders saying all misdemeanors are eligible except ones involving animal cruelty and domestic violence between dating youth.
Sheriff Chip Simmons agreed to Issue civil citations to over 80% of eligible youth.
Mayor Grover Robinson publicly stated his support of the civil citation program and ensured that our new Police Chief stops children from being trapped in our criminal justice system. The statewide bill we won also included language to encourage local communities to start adult civil citation programs.
While we have not achieved our goal of 80% we have gone from 17% civil citation use in December 2020 to 55% in October 2022.
That means that over 220 fewer children were branded for life due to our efforts.
While we are happy that their improvements are not done. The path forward requires many steps, but this is so worth it to make sure no child receives an arrest record for something minor like a sibling fight or stealing a candy bar. In order for our officials to take us seriously, follow-up is key. Our officials need to know that not only do we ask for changes but we make sure it happens and establish credibility for all future work.