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Sarasota, Fla., Nation's Meanest City, Homeless Advocates Say

Sarasota, which recently imposed a no-camping ban, is the meanest city in the nation toward the homeless, according to a national advocacy organization.

The annual list of the 20 worst cities for treating the homeless in 2005 ranks Lawrence, Kan., as second meanest, and Little Rock, Ark., third. Atlanta, Dallas, Las Vegas and Houston were also among the top 10.

Sarasota bans sleeping outside overnight without permission on public or private property. A judge recently upheld the ordinance passed by city commissioners in August after two similar no-camping rules were declared unconstitutional.

"They could have been taken off the mean list if they would have just done away with that ordinance," said Michael Stoops, acting director of the Washington-based National Coalition for the Homeless.

Sarasota officials say the no-lodging rule helps keep the city's homeless out of unsafe and unhealthy camps.

Forty-five people were arrested last year for violating the ordinance, which gives police the option of transporting suspects to a shelter instead of jail.

The National Coalition for the Homeless compiled the list released Wednesday with the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty.

According to the report, homelessness, as measured by increased demands for emergency shelter, went up nationally. It estimated that 3.5 million Americans experience homelessness.